Detroit ‘test lab’ gives artists, creativity a space to expand

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Detroit — Walk into the Detroit Artist Test Lab and it feels like home, perhaps because it literally is for Glenn Urquhart.

Music floats across the open 12,000-square-foot space as children playfully run across its wood floors, climbing onto comfy couches and chairs. In different corners of the lab, groups of artists and entrepreneurs work in studio spaces, collaborating on projects. 

Adi Muhtarevic, 19, of Clinton Township rolls up one of his photos at the Detroit Artist Test Lab, a workshop and gathering spot for artists, teachers and the community to create and learn and teach.

The sun is setting on rows of windows facing Mack Avenue, allowing pink light to pour inside the lab where photographers prepare for a shoot with a local musician.

It's a typical evening here in the lab, Urquhart said.

"We always have something going on here," he said with a smile.

Two years in, the Detroit Artist Test Lab has become a thriving workshop and gathering spot for artists, teachers and the community to create, learn and teach. It's also become a community center that hosts baby showers, weddings and music recitals.

And that's exactly what Urquhart, who opened the east side lab between the Morningside and Jefferson Chalmers neighborhoods, wants it to be.

A former dance hall from 1922, the lab now boasts a podcast studio, art gallery, event space and 2,500-square-foot photography studio after Urquhart transformed the space.

Inside, skateboard ramps turned up on their ends and painted white act as interior walls, giving the space curves. Windows run across the entire side of Mack Avenue, giving artists beautiful lighting and sunrise and sunset opportunities and inspiration.

Artists and space renters include an illustrator, several photographers, a Tech Town office, a bartending school and a music teacher. The lab holds eight private offices as well as several open spaces.

Glenn Urquhart’s mission is to bring art — prints, photographs, fiber — to the people and to provide a home-like environment where people can connect.

The lab received $65,000 from the Motor City Match program to open its door and $4,000 from Motor City Re-Store to improve its facade.

At the moment, the lab hosts 34 podcasters whose topics range from religion to bar reviews to pop culture.

Urquhart's mission is to bring art — prints, photographs, fiber — to the people and to provide a home-like environment where people can connect.

"We have an art gallery here, I do my own art shows out of here, I procure my own art. I also rent it out to just about anything," Urquhart said.

Urquhart, who started out in jewelry design, says he wants art to be so low barrier and interactive that he is installing pieces inside vending machines in the lab.

For $5, visitors will soon be able to push a button, watch the coil spin and deliver affordable artwork from local artists into the hands of anyone seeking the experience.

"Anytime we have a show here, the price has to be clearly marked on the piece," Urquhart said. "I need something that's affordable for anyone who walks in. Anyone who shows here has to have a $20 piece they can sell."

Urquhart shares the home with his two children ages 6 and 8 who spend their days hanging from a swing in the center of the second floor between the family room and dining room.

Glenn Urquhart shares the home with his two children — Addilyn, 6, and Michael, 8. “This is basically my first home,” said Urquhart. “My kids, they get to see and experience all kinds of things.”

In his kitchen, the island countertop is made out of bowling alley flooring. Ceilings and brick are exposed. Art from across the world is on the walls everywhere, and a baby grand piano is featured in a bathroom. Oversized neon signs don the walls.

"This is basically my first home," said Urquhart, who has plans to keep developing the interiors with bulletproof glass and other oddities. "My kids, they get to see and experience all kinds of things."

The airy lab made the list of the eight most "Instagramable" places in Detroit this year by Peerspacer for its "hip common spaces" and its exterior that features a dramatic turquoise and black mural by artist Michelle Tanguay, which beckons passers-by with: "Let's create something beautiful."

Adi Muhtarevic, a 19-year-old photographer who shoots concerts in Detroit, has been coming to the lab for nearly two years. He learned of the lab from a friend and came by one day and hung out. Soon after, he began shooting in the studio.

"The test lab is a completely different environment than any other studio ... it feels like you are in a house. I like that. It's an actual environment, and it's a comfortable environment.

"I like the whole idea of the studio up here and then downstairs space. You can do everything out of this one building, run a  business and host events."

Urquhart rents by the month on a membership program in which tenants don't get charged for utilities. Prices range from $75 to $85 per hour to rent studio space. Monthly membership rates for private space ranges from $350 to $450.

"We are way underpriced. Obviously, we aren't downtown. ...This is a destination, and I want it at a price point where anyone can just come over," Urquhart said. "... I want them to grow and move into the neighborhood. That's my big goal."

Jesse Fairs, center, of West Bloomfield leads a banquet service class at the Detroit Artist Test Lab.

Urquhart says his motives for success are selfish: He wants the neighborhood to grow and flourish with families and artists who will add value to the property and to people's lives.

Cheyenne Raine says the lab is the perfect space for the YouTube Channel she plans to launch. The focus will be on fashion and shopping inexpensively.

"This is so perfect," said Raine, 22, of St. Clair Shores. "The aesthetic of everything. This is so modern for my generation. If people were to see the thumbnail of my videos, they would click on it because of how the background looks."

For more information, visit the lab online at