Carr Center’s 30th season brings new space and the return to live performance

Erica Hobbs
Special to The Detroit News

Detroit’s Carr Center marks its 30th anniversary this season, returning from a nearly two-year hiatus from live performance and a focus on “the new.” 

“We never focused on when we might reopen,” said Carr Center President and CEO Oliver Ragsdale Jr. “We focused on what we were able to do no matter what.”

The Center — which presents Black art and artists — began that newness with its 2020-21 virtual season and will continue with a combination of digital and in-person performances inside a new space and under the direction of new artistic director Terri Lyne Carrington, appointed in 2019. 

Carr Center President and CEO Oliver Ragsdale Jr.

The season opened this month with the return of its virtual film series, introduced in 2020. This year’s theme is “Jazz on Film,” and is a weekly five-part series curated and hosted by film producer Juanita Anderson with guest curator, film director Marcus Turner. Screenings take place Tuesdays, followed by a discussion with hosts and special guests.  

The new space is within Detroit’s historic Park Shelton building and includes a first-floor, 2,000 square-foot art gallery as well as a 3,000 square-foot performance space and rehearsal studio inside the building’s original hotel ballroom. 

The space supplements the Carr Center’s existing locations, which includes its administrative offices in Detroit’s Hannan Center, and the Detroit School of Arts high school, which will continue to host larger-scale performances and educational programs. 

The Park Shelton location will present more community programming and puts the Carr Center in Midtown, which Ragsdale said was important to the organization.

“It’s an opportunity to have a space and a home for African American arts in the (city’s) cultural center,” he said. 

While the gallery technically opened in October 2019 — to be shut down in March due to the pandemic — Ragsdale said the space is now completely renovated with new lighting, new duct work and an overall freshening up. The performance area, which will be a 200+ seat black box theater, is still undergoing renovation and is expected to open in the spring. 

An exhibition of work by Jason Phillips, a Detroit painter, mixed media artist, muralist and tattoo artist, will re-open the gallery Oct. 16. Titled “Multifaceted: A retrospective of work by Jason Philips,” the exhibition features two decades of the artist’s multidisciplinary work, including fine art and illustration tattoo work, with themes that reflect the African American cultural experience.

Curator Chelsea A. Flowers said the presentation portrays the multilayered narratives of Blackness.  

“Philips’ work shares with the world various intersectional stories and experiences of Black people,” she said. “In showing the beauty of Black identity, he also portrays unfortunate and, at times, heartbreaking realities of Black identity through social and political critique. Through symbolism in figurative and abstract paintings, illustration, and tattoo work; Philips genuinely creates vignettes of worlds for his audience to empathize, explore and engage with.”

The Carr Center will present its first live performance Nov. 6 with “Season Spectacular.” The event includes performances from artists who will be featured throughout the rest of the season, including jazz and pop keyboardist Patrice Rushen, pianist and arranger Kevin Harris, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, harpist Brandee Younger and the Gathering Orchestra, the Center’s young professional fellowship program, directed by Rodney Whitaker. Carrington, a Grammy Award-winning drummer, will also perform, as well as a dancer from the Debbie Allen Dance Academy and a student trio. 

“The idea is, in essence, to preview the season,” Ragsdale said. 

The event is the first of four live concerts this season, all performed in the Ford Theatre within the Detroit School of Arts. The performances include “To Stevie With Love,” a Stevie Wonder tribute concert Feb. 26, ““The Great Jazz Women of Detroit: Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, and Betty Carter” April 9 and a 30th anniversary celebration concert May 21. The anniversary celebration will feature a new jazz-influenced work from Rushen, commissioned by the Carr Center. The three-movement piece celebrates the three decades of the organization and will be performed by the Gathering Orchestra.

Reflecting on the organization’s milestone, Ragsdale said it’s exciting to be presenting African American cultural arts to the world and to have that amplified by its 30th anniversary that celebrates the continuation of that work. 

He said the Carr Center presents the very best in the arts and is an opportunity see African American Art in an African American context, especially for those unfamiliar with that work.

“This is a place where you can come and have that experience,” he said, “and learn about, not just the performers, but the stories that the performers and that the art tells.” 

Highlights of the Carr Center’s 30th Anniversary Season (Note: all live performances will require masks and proof of vaccination for entry)

o    Oct. 12 – Symbiosis: Film – “Begone Dull Care” 

o    Oct. 19 – Classic Black: Films – “Alice Coltrane: A Love Supreme” and “Max and Abbey” 

o    Oct. 26 - Jazz as Muse in Improvisation: Films – “Oscar” and “That’s My Jazz”

o    Nov. 2 – Jazz as Muse in Narrative Film: Film – “Songs For My Right Side” 

•    Oct. 16 – Jan. 8: “Multifaceted: A retrospective of work by Jason Phillip” art exhibition – Carr Center Gallery, Park Shelton

•    Nov. 6: “A Season Spectacular” concert – Ford Theatre, Detroit School of Arts, 7:30 p.m.

o    Featuring performances by Grammy Award-winning drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, jazz and pop keyboardist Patrice Rushen, pianist and arranger Kevin Harris, vocalist Jazzmeia Horn, harpist Brandee Younger, the Gathering Orchestra, directed by Rodney Whitaker, and additional appearances. 

•    Feb. 26: “To Stevie With Love” – Ford Theatre, Detroit School of Arts, 7:30 p.m.

o    A Stevie Wonder tribute concert that imagines the music through the lens of the New York jazz scene, with musical direction by Terri Lyne Carrington, featuring arrangements by pianist Kevin Harris. Other guest artists will be announced.

•    April 9: “The Great Jazz Women of Detroit: Alice Coltrane, Dorothy Ashby, and Betty Carter” – Ford Theatre, Detroit School of Arts, 7:30 p.m.

o    A program celebrating the contributions of three African American women from Detroit and their role in the development of jazz, with musical direction by Terri Lyne Carrington. Special guests will be vocalist Jazzmeia Horn and harpist Brandee Younger.

•    May 21: “30th Anniversary Celebration: The Gathering Orchestra” – Ford Theatre, Detroit School of Arts, 7:30 p.m.

o    A concert by the Gathering Orchestra featuring a newly-commissioned work by keyboardist Patrice Rushen celebrating the Carr Center’s 30th Anniversary 

For further details, go to: www.thecarrcenter.org.