Kresge headed back to neighborhoods with $1.5M

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News
Graem Whyte’s white geometric sculpture is among several in the backyard of Popps Emporium.

The $55,000 check that Graem Whyte's nonprofit collected from the Kresge Foundation last May bought him time — and it didn't have to cover Advil.

The next round of applications for the Kresge Innovative Projects: Detroit (KIPD) program that helped Whyte opens Tuesday, with a new, streamlined process in place to claim a piece of a $1.5 million fund.

Pain relievers remain optional, and the goal remains the same: to help restore neighborhoods in a city where the money and attention tend to flow to two or three fortunate ZIP Codes.

Whyte and his wife, painter Faina Lerman, operate an art-focused community organization called Popps Packing on the Detroit-Hamtramck border. Their emphasis since receiving their grant in late May has been the restoration of a century-old storefront and attached house they call Popps Emporium.

A Kresge grant helped turn a battered house on the Detroit/Hamtramck border into the Popps Emporium (pictured), which remains a work in progress.

It now has a new roof, so the artists who mount exhibits in the storefront don't have to incorporate leaks into their creative vision. A redesigned facade. A garage-sized building out back that will become a neighborhood tool library. And: three floors of drywall that would have taken Whyte at least a month to hang, but a professional finished in a week.

"Before the grants," Whyte said, "I did 90 percent of everything."

With Kresge's money, plus $30,000 in crowdfunding with a match from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the sculptor has been able to focus on the big picture.

The old social club in the basement, with the bar and the 1890s pump organ ... Who can use it, and when? The community space upstairs, with the new hardwood floors, the computer for poorer neighbors who don't have their own, and the library of do-it-yourself books for all the other local rehabbers ... What hours should it stay open?

For Kresge, those sorts of questions are part of the answer for how to fix Detroit.

KIPD began with a $5 million pilot phase from 2015-17. The relaunch in May committed $6 million across three years, plus an annual pool of $500,000 to help with technical support and networking.

Applications for the next round are due by Feb. 5 and will require only a one- or two-page proposal and a budget submitted at, according to Wendy Lewis Jackson, the managing director for Detroit programs. Or, she said, organizations can simply submit a video.

"Particularly for smaller organizations, neighborhoods don't always have access to technology," she explained, but everyone has a phone.

Grants will be issued in three categories: Up to $35,000 for planning, up to $150,000 for combined planning and implementation, and up to $150,000 for implementation.

Including the pilot phase, Jackson said, more than 70 KIPD projects have been underwritten, "and considering these are neighborhoods that haven't had this kind of influx of resources, we've been very pleased with the results."

Eighteen projects were approved in the round that included Popps Emporium, with completion deadlines of 18 to 24 months.

Seven months in, progress is as varied as the projects themselves.

In southwest Detroit, equipped with $150,000 from Kresge, Garage Cultural's mission is a cooperative workspace and coffee bar in a warehouse that already contains an arts and cultural center.

"We've been moving forward on the project," co-director Amelia Duran said. "We're working to finalize architectural plans."

At 5021 Tireman on the west side, meanwhile, the Detroit Sound Conservancy started with a $35,000 planning grant and wound up with a home.

The home is a wreck, conceded director Carleton Gholz, but it's also a dream: the historic Blue Bird Inn, where jazz greats like John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Art Blakey made music and history.

The initial goal was to figure out what, if anything, could be done with the shell of the Blue Bird. "Everything that's happened to Detroit," Gholz said succinctly, "has happened to this building."

Then the city sorted out the convoluted title to the property and put it on the market, and for less than a third of its Kresge grant, the conservancy pounced.

The organization has big plans for the little club in the middle of a once-thriving block. It'll be a headquarters, a historical site and a hopping place to hear music — assuming the music preservation group can find some money.

"For the kind of work we're trying to do in that neighborhood," Gholz said, "somebody's got to believe."

He's thinking reverently of Kresge, and the door to the teller's cage is open.

Twitter: @nealrubin_dn