Festival brings art, healing to 4 Detroit neighborhoods

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Cherise Morris is one of 50 artists who will participate in Detroit’s Sidewalk Festival. (Courtesy photo)

Detroiters faced many challenges in 2020. From the loss and confusion caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the social unrest unleashed after a viral video of a Minneapolis police officer murdering George Floyd became public, last year was filled with heartbreak and struggle. 

Ryan Myers-Johnson, the founder and director of Sidewalk Detroit, said that, after last year, she wanted to host a  “healing revival party.”

“People expressed a desire to heal and celebrate life, and to not move on in a sense of forgetting what’s gone, but to grow and persevere despite the challenges that we still face,” Myers-Johnson said. 

That’s why Myers-Johnson is bringing back the Sidewalk Festival, which was cancelled last summer due to COVID-related restrictions. The festival, which will run for four weekends at four locations, will highlight more than 50 local artists and community groups. It will kick off this Saturday in the Dexter-Linwood neighborhood and end in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood on August 14th. 

The Sidewalk Festival is a mixture of Detroit’s cultural landscape and will feature live performances, installations, and interactive art and will be the event’s eighth year. 

Myers-Johnson said it’s an “art festival meets neighborhood block party.”

“It’s a really great opportunity to explore and see new angles and places within the city,” said Myers-Johnson, who has a background in film and dance production and wants Detroiters to “experience art in a different, unique way.” 

Phil Simpson, a Detroit native and painter, is one of the many artists involved in this year’s festival. Simpson says his favorite part of the festival is that it brings art directly to the neighborhoods.

Phil Simpson said the festival brings art “directly” to the neighborhoods. (Courtesy photo)

“Neighborhood kids who maybe don’t go downtown or Midtown, they need the art just as much as anyone else,” Simpson said. 

Simpson says bringing art “straight to the hood” is important, because those people might be the ones who need artistic inspiration the most.

“It can come from music, it could come from art, it could come from sculptures and dance, and so, with some of the public schools not having these things, when you bring the arts to the community, it’s a huge thing,” he said. 

Thornetta Davis, a Detroit blues singer who is performing at this year’s festival, said young people need a place to express themselves and be creative. 

Davis believes that is “missing from a lot of schools these days.”

“When you bring (a festival)  to the neighborhoods, and (young people) can see something they feel is a part of their life, and a part of their being … it inspires them,” Davis said.

Renowned Detroit singer Thornetta Davs will perform live. (Courtesy photo)

Davis, who is from the city’s east side, will be singing for one of the first times since the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt on live shows and performances last year. Davis says it’ll be great to do an event that isn’t virtual. 

“I was able to do some things online, but it’s not the same when you want to get that energetic feeling from the audience. Now I can give that love and energy back to them,” she said. 

You can learn more about this year’s festival and how to be a vendor at Sidewalk Detroit’s website.

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