As a young artist growing up in northwest Detroit, Ryan Myers-Johnson says she was often frustrated that she had to leave her neighborhood to find cultural events.
So in 2012 she decided to fix that by starting her own festival in the heart of Old Redford. The Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts will return to fill the streets and sidewalks on Lahser between Grand River and Orchard on Friday and Saturday.
Although the festival takes place outside the usual cultural centers of downtown and Midtown, that’s not the only nontraditional thing about it. The event is billed as Detroit’s “most radical festival of outdoor performance.”
“We have a lot of amazing festivals in Detroit that I’m super excited about and that I love,” Myers-Johnson says. “But we have a lot of traditional festivals. We don’t really have any fringe festivals or street festivals.”
The Sidewalk Festival, on the other hand, will present an adventurous slate of 77 different Detroit artists and groups including dancers, theater troupes, visual artists and musicians. All performances take place at street level in an effort to create a closer bond between performer and audience.
“We’e trying to create this snowglobe effect of art, in which you come in and you’re sort of transported into a different world that’s just surrounded by art,” Myers-Johnson says. “If you just want to chill and hear some jazz, we have that. But if you want to get down and dirty into the creation of art, we have that as well.”
Organizers have emphasized interactive art installations for this year’s festival. Detroit artist Paula Schubatis will present a family-oriented installation titled “Personal Space Building,” in which she’ll invite attendees to join her in creating what she describes as a “big, crazy trash-blanket-fort type of thing” using textiles and found objects.
Schubatis, who teaches art at Detroit Community High School, says she prefers presenting interactive works.
“There’s a lot of solitude to having a studio practice,” she says. “I want to find a way to relate to people, but in that way I can’t. In the performative capacity and creating installations, I can create this environment where I can have people relate to me and the things I want to communicate to them.”
Eastpointe-based rapper Mahogany Jones will present a different kind of interactive performance at the festival. On Saturday, Jones will lead a “community cipher,” a twist on the traditional rap battle that invites audience members to sing, speak, rap, dance or contribute however they wish while a DJ plays beats.
Jones has led community ciphers in numerous other venues — including last year’s festival, where a planned 15-minute cipher stretched into a half hour.
“If people are open, it’s electric,” she says.
Detroit artist Billy Mark stage-managed the first three festivals and will guest-curate this year’s event. Mark, who moved to Detroit in 2012 after a 13-year stint in Los Angeles, describes the festival as “one of the most diverse and creative art experiences” he’s ever participated in.
Patrick Dunn is an Ann Arbor-based freelance writer.
Sidewalk Festival of Performing Arts
7-11 p.m. Fri.; 2-10 p.m. Sat.
Lahser between Grand River and Orchard, Detroit
$10 suggested donation