Detroit City Limits | What's Going on in Detroit


"Coloring our Streets, One Block at a Time" Southwest’s Garage Cultural Launching Art on the Block by John Bentley

Photo Courtesy of Amelia Duran

Starting on June 9, a neighborhood arts festival will engage the Southwest Detroit community by creating murals and events to reflect the area’s unique identity, heritage, and culture.

Presented by arts education collective Garage Cultural, Art on the Block will continue through this summer and beyond. The festival will enlist artists, students, businesspeople and residents to collaborate on murals and other installations to be executed on the walls of stores and homes, and in parks and other public places.

Art on the Block is about much more than art,” says Amelia Duran, co-directora of Garage Cultural.  “It’s also about telling the story of our community - what makes Southwest Detroit who we are, that we’re here and here to stay.”

A native of the neighborhood, Duran attended Western International High school and held positions in community development before coming full-time to the volunteer-run Garage Cultural two years ago. 

“I identify with my Latino heritage, but I most identify with being from Southwest Detroit,” says Duran. “The area is unique, diverse, and there’s a strong tradition of music, food and art that reflects our culture.”

To achieve the most impact, the project will start by focusing on just one area, around Livernois and Vernor Hwy. The goal is to expand organically across Southwest Detroit.

Art on the Block is just one of many initiatives sponsored by Garage Cultural.  The collective was founded six years ago by Duran’s father, Ismael Duran, and Lydia Gutierrez, the CEO of Hacienda Mexican Foods. 

Mr. Duran has established a number of similar programs during his career, and was previously head of Compas, another Southwest performing arts program.  Mrs. Gutierrez, Garage Cultural’s chief benefactor, underwrites most overhead and the usage of Hacienda’s former warehouse as the organization’s headquarters.

The building maintains its warehouse feel, the exterior painted with colorful murals and the interior showing exposed brick and steel. There are more murals and paintings inside, most paying homage to the neighborhood. Two walls are decorated with posters promoting the Latin American Festivals that were held in Hart Plaza during the 1980s and 90s.  Three classrooms – plus dance, recording and art studios, workspaces and offices – round out the space.

There are many activities for young people:

  • Starting in June and through the summer, students can receive instruction in a tremendous variety of programs - visual arts, mural painting, music production and writing, craft making, guitar, keyboards, and a drumming circle. 
  • The space is also home to Motor City Street Dance Academy, a hub for the Detroit breakdancing scene.
  • There’s even space for skateboard making, a popular activity, with workshops conducted during the summer.

In all, says Ms. Duran, young people from around 130 families take part in programs offered by Garage Cultural every year.

Ms. Duran is still finalizing Art on the Block venues, events and artists, but says that one participant is already set to return to Detroit: Jesus Benitez, from Mexico City, who painted two murals in May 2014 via a partnership with The Alley Project, 1xrun and Innerstate Gallery. 

Those murals were vandalized in the fall of 2016 and the need to bring back the original artist became part of the inspiration behind creating a larger annual project surrounding outdoor art in the community. While in Detroit, Jesus will also be collaborating with local Southwest Detroit artist Freddie Diaz to create some new works, whose designs are yet to be determined.

As she prepares for the big event, Ms. Duran is mindful that Garage Cultural is one of a number of similar programs serving Southwest Detroit – including Compas, Living Arts in the Mexicantown Mercado, Ballet Folklorico de Detroit and others.

“While a number of us are doing similar things,” she says, “there is a great air of cooperation in Southwest Detroit, and we all work together.”  

That’s the spirit, she believes, that will make Art on the Block a success.

Garage Cultural is located at 3423 Livernois, Detroit 48210. To participate in Art on the Block – or to find out more about the collective’s many programs – call  (313) 475-7414 email info@garagecultural.org.  Or visit the website at GarageCultural.org. There is also a Facebook page.

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