Exuberant artwork adorns Rainbow City Roller Rink

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

Arturo Sandoval III and Samuel Borkson, the brains behind the FriendsWithYou art collective, freely admit they're huge fans of Hello Kitty, the whimsical franchise beloved by pre-teen girls the world round.

Rainbow City Roller Rink is open 2 p.m.-9 p.m. Wednesday - Sunday. Admission and skates are free, but online registration is required.

"We're major fans," said Borkson in a pre-Christmas conference call. "Major, major." Added Sandoval, "We still dig it." 

For the record, Borkson and Sandoval are 39 and 42. But you wouldn't know that from their exuberantly childish artwork, some of which now hangs above Detroit's pop-up Rainbow City Roller Rink, which will be up through January. 

You'll find Rainbow City, which was supported by Bedrock and the Quicken Loans Community Fund, in the cavernous ground floor of the black skyscraper at 1001 Woodward, across from Campus Martius. Sandoval and Borkson's huge, candy-colored balloons hang high above the skaters, while a giant round head on a striped pole slowly revolves, eyeing the fun below. 

Artists Samuel Borkson and Arturo Sandoval III of FriendsWithYou created the ballons that animate Detroit's Rainbow City Roller Rink.

The pair aim to generate reactions with their unapologetic cuteness — which now adorns a range of FriendsWithYou creations and products — hoping to hook people who otherwise wouldn't give art a second thought. 

"We want to make art accessible to everyone," Sandoval said. "That's very much part of our ethos, to create engaging interactions."

"We're reaching for what Warhol and Disney accomplished," added Borkson. "We want to spread good vibrations and positive aspirations as far as we can."

Depressed during the long January gloom? A visit to Rainbow City might just be the ticket. 

Even better — admission and skates are both free, though you do have to sign up online in advance. 

That there's no cost involved thrills the FriendsWithYou guys. 

"A gang of kids with no money can come to our art installation and skate for free. For me and Turi," said Borkson, using Sandoval's nickname, "that’s the most ideal place our art can possibly exist, helping create magic in the city." 

Admission and skate rentals at Detroit's Rainbow City Roller Rink are both free, but online reservations are required.

This isn't the first time Rainbow City has popped up — the balloons started life years ago at Toronto's Luminato arts festival, and have since appeared in Miami and at New York's High Line, among other places. 

More recently, a FriendsWithYou creation — in this case, a chipper little cloud, 30 feet wide — starred as one of the floats in this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Manhattan. 

"That was insane," said Sandoval. "It was so symbolic — a pivotal moment for us."

"We walked with the blimp with our family and friends in sub-zero weather," said Borkson, "just trying to survive. It was pushing-a-boulder-up-the-mountain type stuff, but incredibly inspiring."

FriendsWithYou artists Arturo Sandoval III and Samuel Borkson at the opening of Detroit's pop-up Rainbow City Roller Rink.

Sandoval and Borkson were brought to Detroit by the couple that owns Detroit's Library Street Collective gallery, Anthony and JJ Curis. 

The pair have been instrumental in any number of public-art happenings in the city, including the Shepard Fairey murals, The Belt alleyway, and the wacky KAWS statue, "Waiting," in front of One Campus Martius.

"We first met Sam and Turi a little over a year ago in Los Angeles," said Anthony, "where we were putting on a big exhibition of Shepard's work. We have a lot of mutual friends. It’s kind of a small world."

He added, "We’ve always been interested in working with FriendsWithYou because of how ambitious they are and how huge they’ve gotten. They check a lot of boxes — painting, sculpture, and large-scale installation."

For their part, Borkson and Sandoval — who started collaborating in Los Angeles in 2002 — say they were thrilled with their first brush with Detroit. 

"We really didn’t know what to expect," said Borkson, "but we were so amazed and happily surprised by the people and the energy. We fell in love." 

They're also totally jazzed with how Rainbow City adapted to a roller rink. Borkson proudly called it "one of best art incarnations we’ve done in 17 years."

Twitter: @mhodgesartguy

(313) 222-6021


Rainbow City Roller Rink

Through January 

1001 Woodward, Detroit

2-9 p.m. Wed.-Sun.

Free - skates included, but registration online required