Detroit Performs


In the Community

Artist Donna Jackson develops art projects that strengthen and beautify communities; spoken word artist, Jamii Tata, furthers the education of children in the community; poet Tawana Petty pours her soul into her performances.

Episode 909

AIRED: October 15, 2019 | 0:26:16

- [Man] In this episode of Detroit Performs,

an artist develops art projects

that strengthen and beautify communities,

a spoken word artist furthers education

of the children in the community

and a poet pours her soul into her performances.

It's all ahead on this edition of Detroit Performs.

- [Woman] Funding for Detroit Performs is provided

by the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation,

The Kresge Foundation,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you, Thank you.

(upbeat music)

- Hello and welcome to Detroit Performs,

I'm your host DJ Oliver

and today I'm at Dancing Eye Gallery in downtown Northville

Now this gallery boasts a wide variety

of different creations made by Michigan artists,

including this shirt I have on right here.

Now we'll find out more about this gallery later

in the show, but right now let's get to our first segment,

artist Donna Jackson's bodies of work are the results

of what she's learned from womanhood

and what she hopes to share with her hometown.

Let's take a look.

(happy music)

I never saw myself as a person

that was an artist to create art for others to enjoy.

That wasn't the point.

The point was for me to get to know who I was.

I was in Houston from '05 to 2010.

I was hearing so much about the insurgence

and the change of Detroit,

and I was seeing all of these different faces

of who's doing this, these transitions and all that.

And none of them looked like me or my friends

or my neighborhood, none of it.

Like I need to create something to make sure these voices

that I know that are there can be heard, seen,

and people are aware of it.

And that's what I started doing,

I was project manager.

I wanted to reach out to other artists.

Door of Opportunity is a transition

of physical doors into art.

And I wanted to make sure that the collection we got

was this really good mix of what was really going on

in Detroit with artists.

With these doors, you can do a few things.

You get a voice.

You get your artwork in the communities

where it truly, truly matters.

And then you also get to engage with other artists

that may feel the same way that you do.

Today we're installing Doors Of Opportunity

in Bates Academy.

I love that it is a school in a system that I grew up in.

And being able to do that

and bring art to that school is really exciting.

It is a process and it's one we had to learn.

We learned that we needed team members,

we needed movers, we needed people

that understood the delicacy of art.

The theme was Detroit.

We all really do see this city in a different way,

so it's so important to give someone a chance to show that.

We always go to diversity meaning skin color or gender.

No, I mean,

thought process and experience diversifies us, right?

And we need to really give

that more power or value it more.

And I think that's what I try to do with my projects.

What I hope the students get from the installation

is knowing that you can make a career

out of being an artist, that art is something

that should be a normal part

of your everyday life and space,

and seeing art made by people

that are from the same city as you

and most likely look like you.

You know, I think those are important.

I think people see me more as that person

that develops projects that supports exhibits

and support other artists, and I'm good with that title.

It's not until you really get to know me

that I may share my art, my personal art.

Colorful Women is my personal art series

that I have been doing since 2005.

I am very good at being a human being.

I am very good at being a spiritual being.

I am eh about being a woman.

It's one of those kind of weaknesses

that I have that I'm trying to work on,

being comfortable in my skin as a woman.

And I have nieces and nephews,

and I want them to be comfortable in their skin

in that same way whether they're male,

female or whatever they're feeling.

I started drawing women,

kind of deconstructing them

from what the standard beauty is for America

and constructing them in a way

that was more digestible for me.

I almost think I'm trying to make the physical woman

into a spiritual one by the way I draw.

And the funny thing is I called it Colorful Women,

but when I first started,

I only drew in black and white

because color scared the hell out of me.

But as I continued, you know,

I think art calls you

and tells you what to do.

And so the colors start kind

of just phasing into it.

I started seeing small sentences

just occurring in my illustrations.

And then it went from small sentences to like paragraphs,

like maybe I need to, you know,

look into just sitting and writing

and seeing what that feels like.

A lot of time inspiration to write

is listening to other people,

their stories of being women,

our own experiences in the neighborhood,

experience with family.

Pretty much anything could spark that inspiration.

It is a lifestyle of doing something creative every day.

- You can learn more about Donna Jackson

as well as all of our featured artists


Now lets take it back to the D,

where artist Jamii Tata is educating

the youth in our community.

You are the pride of the universe,

saving trees by planting

seeds in the minds of babes,

as well as the fertile ground we see.

Words are keys to communication.

Without words, without understanding words written

and spoken, it's kind of hard

to navigate your environment.


we all fall,

we all fall,

but we get up.

The sky falls.

I am a writer, so I have

written since I was little.

I have learned the art

of performance poetry.

This is my name.

This is our name.

You can't take it away.

My inspiration is revolution.

I am always about change.

I see a lot of things that are not just,

so I strive for justice.

And I write about what it means to be a more sustainable,

holistic, and caring world.

I stand, challenging traditions to allow

for opportunities for women

Inside of my house and outside of my house

I had some challenges.

So I think being able to write

from a place of authenticity

even though some of the things you say

may be hard truths for others, that's okay.

There is cowardice behind your actions.

My potential to pass your potential

scares your enterprise.

The power behind your name will be lessened,

along with the cars in your garage

and your position in society.

I have a lot of anger in me

that I let out through my poetry.

And being able to have that as an outlet,

it's healthy being able

to write things that matter to me

and somehow they matter to other people too.

Like I'm not the only one

that has been wrongly screwed over

by this, that and the other.

I want fresh and organic vegetables in my neighborhood.

I don't have that in the grocery stores

even outside of my neighborhood.

That's an injustice.

Why can't our kids have an education?

That's an injustice.

Being able to talk about those things are like where my art,

where my writing and my performance comes from.

Through cooperative economics,

we grow our own food.

We build and own our own neighborhoods.

We employ our own neighbors.

We don't wait for others to give us value.

In my household I sometimes didn't have a voice,

so poetry gave me an opportunity to have a voice.

I journaled like three times a day.

It saved my life many days

and made me really able to think

about where I wanted to be and

that I wanted to be here on earth continuing the work

of sharing what it means to be a creator.

It's one thing to do work, but if you do work

that affirms your life, you'll do it forever.

The train is an extension.

The train extends the song.

This is my name.

This is our name.

You can't take it away.

I went to Detroit Public Schools.

I went to King High School, loved King.

Love everything that I learned, loved the people,

but my educational journey was tumultuous,

and I think I survived because of the support

that I received, supplementary,

outside of the school system.

In 2005, one of the things that was dismaying to me

was the systematic closing of the schools.

I thought they deserved more.

I thought they deserved better,

and it shouldn't start tomorrow.

It should start today.

Alright, next word is what?

- [Kids] Adolescent.

- Alright, what does that mean?

I founded Know Allegiance Nation

with the goal of building a nation of knowledge seekers.

We do that through consciousness-raising

and literacy attainment.

So there's three pillars through our nation-building work.

So we have our basic literacy

that we do through poetry and entrepreneurship.

So we teach kids how to write for themselves,

basically affirming and creating self-worth.

The second pillar is sort of our advanced literacy

that we do through broadcast journalism.

So I'm a community radio DJ,

and I teach the young people about community radio DJ-ing.

So we are excited to kind of have our own mechanism

to broadcast stories of Detroiters

and Detroiters in Detroit neighborhoods

and those voices that are marginalized,

like the young people.

And then sort of the last pillar is survival literacy.

We do that through agriculture and agrarianism.

So we teach about land justice,

we teach about food sovereignty,

we teach about growing your own to feed yourself.

I have three gardens that I grow at.

We have a market, a community,

and we have a healing butterfly garden that we manage.

So we are gonna add words to a circle.

They could either be your words,

or they can be words from the dictionary.

Every Tuesday and Friday we have

the Illuminate Literacy Entrepreneur classes.

The young people are being introduced to a dictionary.

They have words of the day,

and every day they come in, there's usually two

or three words on the board.

And they get a chance to write the definition,

learn the part of speech, use it in a sentence

and use it in alliteration.

- Active, attack, and acid.

- [Jamii] I think it's basic skills

that everybody thinks they know,

and the young people kind of support each other

and just reaffirming that you don't have to know everything

and also too, we're growing together.

So just because you don't know this now,

don't mean you can't learn it and know it tomorrow.

- Resilient means self-determination.

- [Jamii] Beautiful.

I think the young people

respect each other's space

and as artists they're respecting the artist's process

of each of the young people that are in the room,

but also they share their work

so they can share their alliterations,

which sometimes would be amazing.

So they give the other students access to words

that they didn't have access to,

so they're building each other's vocabulary

- And I kept falling and I got up

because I was resilient.

- [Jamii] Ooh, nice.

(fingers snapping)

In each class we learn vocabulary, we write,

and we go over performance techniques.

And this evening they're creating poems

around being active, whatever that means to them.

- I've been running ever since

Sunset stopped selling hope

and started selling CDs to my chakras.

They call it lyrical healing.

- [Deena Allen] He's a good teacher.

Because sometimes he comes up

with these ideas of writing

that you would've never thought of.

And here and there,

he'll push you depending on what it is,

and it'll make you better in doing poetry.

Activate in five, four, three, two.

It's time to make an impact,

emphasizing the fact

that change needs to happen,

to not sit down and push back.

- [Jamii] After they learn about journaling

and then creating poems,

they learn about putting it in a format

that you can give to others

and then attaching a value to that.

So putting a price on their poems,

so then they can like sell their poems.

So they learn about value from self,

and then they externalize that

and become literacy entrepreneurs.

- It's just crazy to think about

that you could push yourself

and others around you could push yourself

and believe in you that much to the point

where you have something to show everything

that you've accomplished in this small period of time.

If I wasn't in this program I would've been lost.

And it just makes it easier as a learning process

and it gives kids like an outlet pretty much,

to where they can just express themselves

as they choose to, which is amazing.

The heart of my culture needs healing,

but you can't heal an open wound

when shots are constantly fired through.

- [Jamii] Being able to, you know,

create power and agency in young people

and adults to tell their own stories

and to create their own narratives

through the power of language is why we do what we do.

- My music degrading into some mess of jumbled words,

but my liberty is still in need of liberation.

Thank you.


(happy music)

- What's up guys,

I am here with the owner of Dancing Eye Gallery,

Theresa Schierloh, how you doing Theresa?

- Good, how are you?

- I'm great! - Good

- So tell us how did you get started at Dancing Eye Gallery?

- Oh how did I get started,

well I was an artist and then I worked at an art gallery

all through graduate school and I decided,

you know what, I could do this.

I thought I was going to teach,

but no, I decided to do this instead.

- [DJ Oliver ] So Theresa, when did you arrive

here in Northville?

- [Theresa] 1995

- [DJ Oliver] Okay, all right

and what kind of Michigan artist do you guys feature here?

- [Theresa] So we do ceramics, glass, jewelry, textiles

- Shirts , shirts, yeah

- We do everything and anything,

it's based on what my customers are looking for.

- And so what makes Michigan artists so unique?

- Well, a lot of our artists are open

to making things for customers,

versus I'm an artist, enjoy what I make.

- [DJ Oliver] Yes, for us by us.

- [Theresa] Yes, so I think this area is very craft driven,

which is a good thing,

which is why we have so many art fairs,

we have so many galleries

and I really think that artists are in tune

to what people are interested in buying,

so it makes it easier for me.

- [DJ Oliver] Okay so as far as your customer base,

what are people left with when they leave this place?

- [Theresa] Oh, I just want them to appreciate

handmade items, we sell handmade gifts, you know,

you don't have to come into a gallery

and think, oh I don't know enough about art

or I'm not an artist, come in and enjoy it,

anyone can give anything

that I have here for a gift, any occasion

- [DJ Oliver] So one last question too,

what's your favorite part

about working here at Dancing Eye Gallery?

- [Theresa] Oh my gosh, it's like free therapy really,

I just love talking to people.

- [DJ Oliver] Yeah me too.

- [Theresa] I kind of like to talk, have you noticed that?

- [DJ Oliver] I get that and I like to talk to people too,

so we can relate on that.

- [DJ Oliver] Well thank you Theresa, we appreciate that

here on Detroit Performs. Thank you DJ, you're the best!

- Appreciate you. - Yes.

- All right. - Thank you.

- Now let's check out some upcoming events happening

in and around the D.

(upbeat music)

- Next up we meet a poet,

who is using her words to take on important issues

effecting our community.

Here is Tawana Petty.

We are Detroiters,

the black mecca of possibility,

Art, it can be resistance,

Art can be visionary,

Art has a role in social justice

and if you're an artist you have a responsibility

to create the world you want to see.

Also articulate the truth in what's happening.

I grew up in Detroit, born and raised,

I write everyday, at least five minutes in the morning.

The impact that art has had on me,

inspires me to do it.

You know, I had kind of a tough childhood

and so I remember escaping to my journal

and so I want to create that opportunity,

particularly for young people, but for everyone,

like there is meditation and healing in writing and creating

and getting your story out.

I used to just write about anything,

whether it be relationships,

but a lot of my poems are like political now,

it's like I feel like I'm responding to the moment

and so even though I have like some art

that I still create that talks about relationships,

that talks about silly things,

most times I'm engaging in what's happening in the world.

I'm performing at 9405 John R,

is being launched as a bookstore this week actually

and so I'm happy to do an open mic performance

to kind of kick it off for them.

I know I'm going to do a poem

that I kind of do as an intro poem

that is like my way of introducing myself to people

and it's called If I Never Had a Sin

and it's basically just talking about like,

these are the things that I've been through,

but had I not gone through those things

than I wouldn't be here.

Took me awhile before I woke up

and stopped pitying me,

but took responsibility for my actions,

but the fact is

I'm still growin, still learnin as I goin,

day by day it's a struggle

a constant juggle between my home life and work

Then I'm going to do a poem that talks about

like, loving Detroit, because I do (laughs)

A lot like you have been,

discarded like debris,

deemed useless to naysayers and convictors,

yet you keep rising,

clinging to vitality,

you refuse to allow statistics to dictate your destiny

and the media will challenge your journey

And then I'll talk about police brutality,

particularly young black women

who are missing from the narrative.

They bury us in plain site,

our brutalized bodies crash to the pavement

like shattered dreams

And then I'm going to talk a little bit about love.

But you do have to be a model for my son,

be willing to make sacrifices for two not just one

'cause we come as a package

and I'm not willin to unwrap this for just anybody,

I try to speak from my perspective,

use I statements mostly,

but also mostly young black children and women particularly

and I do in some of my poetry,

I talk to young black men, I talk to people of color

and I also just talk about like marginalized

and oppressed communities.

She travels through life like a tourist,

uncomfortable in her own home,

inside her own skin,

tormented by the demons within her own psyche,

she's running from herself,

working her fingers to the bone

for wealth she'll never find pleasure in having,

stress and waking up are synonyms

and she hates kissing him,

but marital obligation says that she must,

one-sided lust is the sum of a union

she's already mentally divorced from

A lot of times the poems come from an emotional place

and so I try to think about

what made me create the poem in the first place

and a lot of times, unfortunately,

if the poem is something that's challenging,

those conditions still exist

and so it's easy to stay in tune

with what the art was about,

so it hasn't really been difficult.

I hope some day that those poems will be a thing of the past

and I won't have to, it'll be something I say, you know,

historically, historically I wrote this poem

about racism and sexism, but that's not a thing anymore,

I'm hoping that we'll get there

and I think art plays a role in that.

The consciousness is shifting and folks want to hear art,

they want to hear artists respond and articulate,

number one what's really happening

and number two a vision for where we go forward

and so now is like a movement moment

and it's a prime opportunity for my art to have a voice now,

where it didn't so much a decade ago.

I would be writing poetry about social justice

and those things and folks didn't want to hear that,

you know this was post-racial America

and like we didn't have those issues.

I think about the role of art and poetry

and like the black arts movement

and then I feel that responsibility

to nurture younger people

to know that they don't have to wait until tomorrow.

Young people have a voice now and they can contribute now

and it's not when you grow up

or in the future, it's now.

I have some art that speaks particularly

to young black girls and young black boys

and it's basically telling them

that, you know, you're going to be told

that you're not something

and, you know, I want to tell you that you are,

you're much more than what you've heard about yourself.

Black child, born to black child,

they will drag you through the mud,

but stay resilient,

carve your mark into the wind,

turn your nose up at the naysayers

and leave the world better than you entered it.

I think that art is a way to re-spirit people,

particularly young people

if they feel like they have a voice

and their voice is valuable,

than they start to behave in a particular manner.

We all have a responsibility create a more humane society

and whether you're an artist, whether an educator,

whether you're a mom or a father or you're a student.

No matter who you are, you have a role

and a responsibility to create a better society.

To leave places better than you entered them

or at least don't harm them

and so I would ask that whomever you are,

take on that responsibility.

You are Detroit, the road to progression,

the mirror image of endurance

and you hold the key to taking back our humanity.

Thank you.

- And that wraps it up for this edition of Detroit Performs,

as always for more arts and culture

head to,

where you'll find featured videos, blogs

and information on upcoming arts events.

Also check us out on Facebook and Twitter.

I'd like to thank the Dancing Eye Gallery

for letting me peruse the store.

Now you know, you've got to hit this place up

next time you're in Northville.

Until next Tuesday, get out there

and show the world how Detroit performs y'all.

I'm DJ Oliver, thanks for watching guys.

- [Woman] Funding for Detroit Performs is provided by

the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation,

The Kresge Foundation,

The A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

The Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

The National Endowment for the Arts

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you, Thank you.

(upbeat music)


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