Frustrations with Trump find artistic outlet in Detroit

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — In a white-walled lower level room at the Light Box, the sound of darts thwacking Donald Trump’s face resonated constantly, and loudly, Monday night.

A cutout representing the United States’ new commander-in-chief anchored an intensive installation connected to “Bad and Nasty,” one of numerous Presidents Day events across the country and overseas aimed at protesting a controversial figure.

A host of visitors vented their frustration, even bursting an orange balloon filled with “blood.”

“It was very cathartic,” Liz Innes of Sterling Heights said shortly after leaving the room. “I feel better.”

Therapeutic release through creative means fueled the event that drew dozens of community members to a west-side multidisciplinary performance and arts venue, one of three gatherings in southeast Michigan tied to Presidents Day demonstrations.

The occasions coincided with thousands of demonstrators turning out Monday across the United States — from New York to Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — to challenge the new commander-in-chief in a protest dubbed “Not My President’s Day.” Demonstrations called attention to Trump’s crackdown on immigration, his stance on climate change and the environment and the border wall with Mexico. Others said they chose to rally on the holiday as a way to honor past presidents by peacefully assembling.

As resistance and outrage grow over Trump’s policies and positions, organizers of the Detroit event noted the scores who packed the Light Box on a holiday that started as a celebration of a revered president to illustrate the current social climate.

“It’s really exciting to have this activity and energy and passion,” Light Box co-artistic director Stefanie Cohen said while surveying the crowd.

The Light Box show unfolded as the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor hosted “Bad Hombres and Nasty Women: Not My President’s Day” and Ypsilanti’s Dreamland Theater presented “Bad and Nasty Cabaret.”

All three stemmed from Ann Arbor performance artist and University of Michigan professor Holly Hughes’ recent social media proposal for a cabaret-style function on Presidents Day allowing performers to artistically respond to the new president.

Anger, disappointment and concerns about the new White House marked much of the short plays, performance art, musical recitals, video clips and installations featured throughout “Bad and Nasty.”

Artists and entertainers deployed songs, costumes, poetic passages, interpretive dances, even puppets to decry many headline-grabbing topics associated with Trump: the businessman’s proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, his past remarks on women, measures to limit immigration.

They also referenced facing the future.

“We need to come together and join each other ... but not work with Trump and his agenda,” performer Duane Gholston told the audience during his piece.

For some of the participants, their expression offered a much-needed outlet.

“I just wanted to be able to focus my own anger for a little while,” said artist Corey Gearhart, whose interactive installation entitled “My Best Response for Now” allowed guests to disfigure Trump cutouts.

The Detroit event, which benefits the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, is expected to launch a monthly performance series at Light Box titled “12 Months of Resistance.”

The chance to revel in a creative venture during trying times encouraged Matthew Daher of Detroit, who also attended Monday. “It’s great there’s a space for this.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.