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Sculptor Robert Sestok looks back to Cass Corridor arts movement to kick-off AXD series featuring Kresge Artist Fellows



With images and anecdotes, Kresge Artist Fellow Robert Sestok takes the stage at Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit on Friday to recall his role in one of the seminal cultural movements in the city’s history.

Looking back 50 years to the 1960s, Sestok’s “Cass Corridor Art and Beyond,” will be the first of 20-plus exhibitions, performances and events over the next four months as Kresge Artist Fellows and Gilda Award winners take their work across Detroit, Highland Park and Hamtramck neighborhoods under the banner of AXD to explore the roots, future and present of the city.

A citywide successor to the biennial Art X festivals – which presented Kresge Artist Fellows mainly in Midtown venues from 2011 to 2015 – projects under the AXD banner explore the changing landscape and narrative of the city and its neighborhoods, said Cézanne Charles, festival curator and director.
“Our theme is Living X,” said Cézanne Charles, the festival’s curator and director. “It’s about now as well as our recent and distant past, and yet-to-be envisioned future. The artists are exploring the significance, ambiguity, resilience and uncertainty of this contemporary moment. That’s what the X stands for.” (A full list of projects and a schedule can be found at

“It’s a novel twist on the idea of a festival; we intend for it to be cohesive even as projects happen across several months and the breadth of Detroit. AXD amplifies the way arts and artists are engaged in neighborhoods across the city,” Charles added.

Beginning with Sestok – a noted sculptor and founder of City Sculpture Park – anchors the series in what critic Sarah Rose Sharp has called the only major movement of Detroit’s recent art history to gain widespread attention. Sharp, a Kresge Artist Fellow herself, has written about the way the 1960s movement nurtured “some of the most prominent visual artists to emerge from Detroit and join the international conversation.”

Sacramento Knoxx
Photo courtesy the artist

Gilda Award winner Sacramento Knoxx will curate visual projections, video and more to uplift deeply rooted stories intended to shape positive change in communities.

It was a movement in what was in the 1960s known as the Cass Corridor – now Midtown. The art reflected the energy of the time and the place as much as the music coming from Motown studios a few blocks away or rock venue music of groups like the MC5.

“I think in the back of my mind that people had a lot of angst in their lives,” Sestok said recently in an interview with co-host Ryan Patrick Hooper on WDET radio’s “Culture Shift” program. “Life was not easy, so you put a little bit of twist on your painting or your sculpture or whatever you were making. Maybe you beat it up a little; you broke and you put it back together. I think that was the deconstructivist theory behind making art back then.”

Sestok says his presentation will include “archival photographs and stranger-than-fiction tales from his personal history,” plus musical accompaniment by John Duffy.

“Cass Corridor Art and Beyond” will be presented at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave., on Friday, Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. Like the other AXD projects, it is open to the public.

Four other AXD presentations are scheduled for the month of September:

  • Fly | Drown by Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jennifer Harge:Writer-curator Aldridge and educator-movement artist Harge are collaborating on “a movement performance and social sculpture that simulates black interior domestic spaces, and celebrates how such interiors aid in the self-possession and pleasure practices of black women.” At Detroit Artist Market, Friday, Sept. 13-Saturday, Oct. 19.
  • Philpot by Tiff Massey: Interdisciplinary artist Massey presents a mixed-media mural featuring the likeness of artist David Philpot, a Kresge Artist Fellow who passed away in 2018, surrounded by representations of his own artwork. This project, intended as both a tribute to Philpot and an inspiration to the community, will be part of the fifth annual Murals in the Market Festival, Saturday, Sept. 14–Saturday, Sept. 21.
  • Beautiful Places/Freedom Spaces by Aisha “Time Keepa” Ellis: Drummer, percussionist and choreographer Ellis will use a backdrop of live music, spoken word, sign language and visual arts to explore the landscape of environmental justice challenges faced by underserved and marginalized communities, including water shutoffs, pollution and housing instability. The project will also demonstrate skills to build self-sufficiency and resilience. At Avalon Village, Highland Park. Saturday, Sept. 21, 3-4 p.m.
  • Phantom Detroit by Rick Robinson: Bassist-composer Robinson and the Urban Requiem Project will combine street poetry, classical and gospel music, background video designs and standing art displays to highlight the continuing income disparity and gentrification issues in Detroit and Highland Park. This small showcase at a location to be determined will be followed by three additional presentations of this project. Friday, Sept. 27, 6:15-7:15 p.m.

Among the projects scheduled for later in the season are:

  • Spirit Plate by Sacramento Knoxx: Interdisciplinary artist Knoxx will curate a multi-day musical experience at the ADZKN Headquarters in Southwest Detroit, utilizing visual projections, video and other forms to uplift ancestral technologies in a communal music experience for Dia de los Muertes (Day of the Dead). His collaborators will include Giizhigad, Kazzy the Gypsy, Raychel Gafford and the Aadizookkaan. “Spirit Plate” will be presented at the Aadizookaan, 3503 Cicotte, Detroit, Oct. 31 at 4 p.m., Nov. 1 at 5 p.m. and Nov. 2 at 5 p.m. Workshops will follow Nov. 4-6.
  • Dem Changes: Bass Lines and Time Lines by Marion Hayden: Bassist Hayden will create a six-part suite that will explore how life has changed over the years for residents of Highland Park. Excerpts from oral histories recorded at the Highland Park Music Festival will be interwoven throughout the musical composition. “Dem Changes” will be presented in Highland Park; location, date and time to be announced.
  • Detroit: Twenty minutes apart, a musical discussion about neighborhoods, race and change by Robert B. Jones: Storyteller, singer, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist Jones joins singer-songwriter Matt Watroba for this stage performance. They will explore the meaning of growing up 20 minutes apart (in Detroit and Plymouth respectively) and finding commonality in art and music through a 30-year friendship. Downtown Detroit location, date and time to be announced.
  • The Firefighters by Carrie Morris: Set to audio interviews collected over the past six years, “The Firefighters” is a contemporary puppet performance illustrating the effects that redlining and disinvestment in Detroit neighborhoods have had on the physical bodies and mental health of city firefighters. “The Firefighters” will be presented Oct. 12 at 1 p.m. at Carrie Morris Arts Productions, 2221 Carpenter St, Detroit. Performances are planned for various Detroit firehouses in November. Details to be announced.

“In AXD, the power of arts and culture to enhance identity, connectedness, and opportunity intersects with the neighborhoods that are the heart and soul of the city,” says Kresge President Rip Rapson. “Bringing together two powerful streams of our work – support for individual artists and support for neighborhoods – reinforces the kind of potent alchemy essential for the city’s continuing revitalization. We look forward to the conversations, innovations and collaborations that are sure to follow.”

Marsha Music
Photo courtesy the artist

Kresge Artist Fellow Marsha Music will perform to celebrate the launch of her new book, “Recollections of a Record Shop Girl.”

The projects were commissioned following an open call to the nearly 200 Kresge Artist Fellows and Gilda Award winners from the first decade of the Kresge Arts in Detroit initiative. AXD, in part, serves as a celebration of that program, which annually awards $25,000 to 18 artist fellows and $5,000 to two Gilda Award winners recognized for early-career risk-taking.

Applications were chosen based on reviews and rankings by a panel that included local and national artists, arts administrators and community representatives. Artists are awarded $7,000 each to produce their projects. They also receive technical, promotional and other assistance through rootoftwo.

“The three Art X festivals from 2011 to 2015 provided opportunities for performances, exhibitions and important discussions about the role of arts in the city. Our final festival spanned 10 days and a dozen venues, mostly in Midtown, drawing more than 10,000 participants,” said Wendy Lewis Jackson, managing director of Kresge’s Detroit Program.

“We felt that we needed to step back and carefully evaluate our options after the 2015 Art X, and that has led to the creation of AXD,” added Jackson. “In addition to spreading the energy to include neighborhoods beyond Midtown, this gives artists greater flexibility to pursue projects that fit their vision and timetable.”