‘Maker City’ spotlights change agents in Fisher lobby

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Big things are coming to the Fisher Building’s three-story, marble arcade — long sadly underutilized, but about to pop with new life.

The Fisher Beacon Project, as the building’s new owners call it, will mount an ongoing series of exhibitions, performances and lectures to make the 1929 masterpiece into a must-visit destination, with programming designed to connect the building to the wider neighborhoods that surround it.

“The Beacon Project will be a series of events celebrating the people, history and culture of Detroit,” said Peter Cummings, the real-estate developer who’s one of the principals behind The Platform, the company in charge of the Fisher’s restoration and programming.

The first step, launching Friday, will be a colorful exhibition called “Maker City.”

This will involve large, illuminated portraits and short profiles of 28 of Detroit’s “Makers and ChangeMakers” who undergird the city’s revived national reputation as a creative hub.

“Maker City” takes a broad view of the concept, including not only artists such as sculptor Robert Sestok or metalworkers Gabriel Craig and Amy Weiks, but also those working in social change, like Veronika Scott, founder of The Empowerment Plan, or Pastor Barry Randolph at the Church of the Messiah.

Said Cummings, “We see this as an opportunity to shift the narrative of Detroit’s recovery to the story of the neighborhoods, championing an inclusive vision for the city’s revival.”

One of the makers in the glass display cases will be Olayami Dabls, artist and founder of the Dabls MBAD African Bead Museum on Grand River.

Dabls said he thinks linking makers to an Albert Kahn building that epitomizes high craft is brilliant pairing.

“Anytime you’re trying to hold onto the craftsmanship from the past, that’s always a great idea,” he said. “And the best thing they could do is illuminate those displays and windows.”

Lit-up glass cases are just one part. The new owners also are tackling tons of deferred maintenance, buffing and restoring all the bronze, wood and frescos that won the Fisher the accolade “Detroit’s largest art object.”

This being 2016, naturally there’s a cool interactive element, which you can access by downloading the “MKR City” app at the App Store or Google Play. That will put you in touch with makers and change agents in Detroit and nationwide.

At the Lothrop Street end of the lobby, three vitrines will be animated by LED screens with rotating interviews with the various makers across the city.

Even better, the app will let you take a selfie shot at one of the vitrines which, once uploaded, will pop your picture onto an LED screens alongside the makers.

“This is just the first of many Beacon projects,” promised Dietrich Knoer, who’s partners with Cummings at The Platform.

“There’s something happening in Detroit,” Cummings added. “The city’s almost becoming a laboratory for urban solutions. And that’s how the larger universe is starting to look at it. We want the Beacon Project to be a part of that and to help address it.”

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Twitter: @mhodgesartguy