Detroit Performs


Jewels of the City

In this episode of Detroit Performs: Virgil Taylor creates wearable art inspired by ancient cultures; a successful renovation and reopening of Orchestra Hall; and Darkroom Detroit provides photography access and education in the city.

AIRED: June 08, 2020 | 0:25:44

- [DJ] In this episode of Detroit Performs,

a wearable artist, orchestra hall reemerges,

an organization provides photography access and education.

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

(light guitar music)

- [Announcer] Funding for Detroit Performs

is provided by, the Fred A. And Barbara M. Erb

Family Foundation, the Kresge Foundation,

the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan,

the A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

the National Endowment fort the Arts,

the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation,

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you.

Thank you.

(upbeat music)

- Hello, and welcome to Detroit Performs.

I am your host, DJ Oliver,

and today I'm chilling in my living room,

keeping in touch with social distancing out there.

Now our first artist today

is Virgil Taylor, who finds inspiration

for his wearable art in ancient Middle East

and African cultures.

Check him out, y'all.

(light electronic music)

- I play with fire, I zone out on working with metal,

it is, it spoke to me.

(light electronic music)

I'm an artist.

I'm not a jeweler and there is a difference.

I have friends that are jewelers that are brilliant.

Some of the stuff they do

I could never do, I don't have the patience

nor the temperament for it because materials talk to me.

(light electronic music)

I grew up in Detroit around Central High School.

My mom was a huge art fan and so it was also

when I think back about it now

nothing in our house ever went unused.

We were always creating stuff and so

I guess I had a natural aptitude for it.

(light electronic music)

I had a very interesting life

but I wasn't doing my craft all the time.

I'd come back to it, I'd do it

and in this particular facility,

Burmingham Bloomfield Arts Center,

I was in my 30s when I discovered this place

and so I start, this place started

getting me back into it.

I have an affinity for certain types of jewelry,

most of the stuff that inspires me

comes out of the ancient Middle East.

That's kind of why I call it the ancient craft,

ancient Africa or African nations,

Middle Eastern nations.

My inspiration tends to be around

those regions, those processes

I have an affinity for ancient techniques.

I went to Africa last year

and spent time with the Maasai.

I was really honored to do that

and fascinated by their processes

because they're so raw.

I mean when you have people making

like annealing metal over dung ovens

I mean which is pretty fascinating to watch.

(light electronic music)

I do a lot of really organic stuff.

I'm very fond of happy accidents.

You know a lot of times other people

will go for refining something

I'm like no no no no that's perfect,

leave it just like that

it works for me so I don't strive

to make art that is real refined.

(light electronic music)

I have a ring that I'm working on now.

I had no clue when I started with this ring

what I was gonna do and I ended up with a stone

that I had no idea I was gonna get

but it just kinda all evolved

and the final touches are this evening on that piece.

(light electronic music)

I have a client that's Ecuadorian.

I did some pieces for, I did a bangle bracelet

for him that was really interesting

and the design ended up being

my interpretation of an ancient Ecuadorian palatial aqueduct

and so it was filled with a blue resin.

It was done in copper, 18 karat gold and sterling silver

and so the resin that I used in it

is blue so it looked like it was a pool at the top

and it looked like there was blue running through the veins

because I cracked it open.

I had another client, a young man

she was very close to was killed in the naval accident

off the coast of Japan a few years ago

and she went to his funeral at Arlington

and they gave her one of the shell casings

from when they did the 21 gun salute for him.

I was in that President's Honor Guard,

I was in the unit that did that

so when she sent me the shell casing

and she was like I need something made out of this

and then I took the shell casing

and turned it into part of that bracelet

so it came out pretty remarkable

I was really proud of it.

That's tremendous honor for me

and I have had people give me their

parent's jewelery or grandma's jewelry

or you know different pieces.

I got this urn that I'm getting ready to do.

That's just a huge honor for somebody

to entrust that kind of thing to me.

(light electronic music)

I recently have been doing some

bracelets that are African,

different parts of Africa but they're currency jewelry.,

with the wearable currency jewelry.

Some people get a little miffed because

when they see them a lot of time they see

it as representing slavery

but the reality of it with those

bracelets though was that yes

they sometimes were involved in slave trading

but the people that were using those

bracelets in these wearable jewelry,

that had little or nothing to do with slave trade.

That was a method of people

currency wearing it because they didn't

have pockets and things and so they would

wear these things and sometimes

it would be a display of wealth

people would barter with them,

so would be the equivalent

of us wearing dollar bills

or hundred dollar bills on our wrist.

So I've been doing some of those recently,

I've been casting those.

The beading that I do, I typically

use African trade beads.

They're typically ancient and they have

a value and a lot of significance.

So the stuff that I create

has some historical significance or

some meaning to me was when I create it.

It's more than just a beaded bracelet

or a beaded necklace.

I feel like it's where I come from,

it resonates with me, it always has.

For me, working with any of those materials

is the ability to take something

and create something beautiful,

that someone will enjoy

and other people will marvel at and look at

and say oh that's so beautiful or interesting or whatever.

It's just always cool.

I guess it always resonated

with me that why are we attracted to jewelry

and just why do we sing, why do we dance,

why do some things make us happy?

And wearable art or jewelry

for me, is just part of that beautification.

Traditionally, humans like to

embellish, they like to beautify themselves

whether it be with paint,

if you go back and look at

old cave drawings people would paint

themselves with mud or whatever

and then they would adorn themselves

with bones or beads or rocks

or whatever that they found,

feathers that they found that were beautiful

so there's something to me that resonates

with us as humans about beauty.

About the embracing of beauty.

For me I think it's a reflection of our psyche,

our desire to always embrace the beautiful.

And so jewelry, wearable art is just another

component or aspect of that.

(upbeat music)

- You can learn more about Virgil Taylor

as well as all the others that we feature


Up next is the fifth installment

of our Orchestra Hall series

where we will see a renovation

and a reopening of the acoustically magical building.

Check it out.

- The hall has certainly had its ups and downs

and the fact that it was almost demolished

when you think back at that.

There's certain aspects of that

that you just feel lucky about.

And the fact that the orchestra didn't leave the city.

That we stayed here and that we came back

to the hall ultimately

- We had to bring a fresh,

complete, overcoming spirit to this place.

To rebuild it in a sense.

To recapture what happened in that summer of 1919.

- When you would come to Detroit

it was there, it was the immovable object.

I really can't imagine the Detroit Symphony

playing somewhere else.

I think this building is an essential part

of the Detroit Renaissance.

(pensive music)

- [Narrator] The revitalization of Orchestra Hall

was a monumental accomplishment

but the orchestra itself was still in the red.

Hit by a struggling Detroit economy

and cuts in funding for the arts,

it would take a special personality

to grow both the orchestra and its venue

back to the kind of international

prominence it knew during the early 20th century.

- I think back to the days of Paray and Ehrling,

Ceccato, Antal Doráti was a significant

part of building the quality of the orchestra.

Günther Herbig brought a gravitas

to the sound that I think

was very special and then Neeme

comes in and takes all of that

and adds sparkle, adds a polish, a sheen to it

that I think was possibly missing

from the immediate period earlier.

- The music directors that we've had

historically all speak to the unique

history of the orchestra.

They have been passionate,

sometimes very colorful leaders

and Neeme was no exception.

- The 1990s were very good years for the Detroit Symphony

they're back in their historic home,

they have a very charismatic new music director

named Neeme Järvi who's Estonian born

who makes a kind of instant connection with the audience.

- To me, Neeme was a jewel.

He was something that the orchestra needed.

He provided a lot of energy,

he provided a lot of musical charisma.

- You knew that he was the person in charge.

But at the same time it was a very jovial quality.

It was something that had a warmth to it.

There was a little bit of sparkle in his eye

no matter what he was doing.

- And I think he really enjoyed this hall

because of the proximity of the audience

to the orchestra.

In many modern halls, the audience is

more removed from the stage

and Neeme always enjoyed looking up

at the boxes and you know kind of giving

a little, a wink sometimes.

- I loved watching him conduct,

he had this sort of humor

this impishness to him

that if you got to know him

he could be a lot of fun.

- [Narrator] With Järvi at the helm,

the Detroit Symphony Orchestra

and Orchestra Hall were rejuvenated.,

making over 40 recordings and undertaking

numerous international tours.

Their success during the closing decade

of the 20th century once again cemented

Orchestra Hall's position as a world class symphonic home.

More importantly though, Neeme Järvi,

like Ossip Gabrilowitsch, championed

the idea of an orchestra's importance

to the greater community.

If the orchestra were to stay

in Orchestra Hall for good,

it would take more than just

a revival of the old hall,

it would take a transformation.

- When I first came to a concert

which was in 1991,

the neighborhood was not at all inviting.

- By that time we had lost half of our population

from our peak in the 1950s.

The auto factories had left

population and jobs and businesses

were fleeing the city.

And so there's a lot of sense

of why bother you know who cares about Detroit.

- We just knew that we needed to revitalize

this immediate neighborhood

and it was sort of out of that kind of thinking

that the Orchestra Place Project emerged.

- When he talked to my father

about this dream, my father told him

you know you're not thinking big enough.

You've gotta think bigger, the city

needs DSO and the hall in a way

that you can't even anticipate at this point.

- Education and outreach and everything else,

we had talked about those things for years.

That is the central spirit

that got this hall built.

That got this hall saved,

that got this hall restored to a point

where people said okay

let's take that ball and let's make a game here.

The hall was built 100 years ago

so it didn't have dressing rooms,

we had people in trailers

and it didn't have a place

for the patrons to assemble

before the program so it needed some updating

and Peter Cummings led that

and then Stanley Frankel.

And they did a marvelous job with it

I mean they were able to add those facilities

without interfering with the acoustics of the hall.

- It can't just be monolithic.

The building needed to expand

and they needed to adapt to its surroundings

but what it is and what it represents

is the same as what it's always been.

- C. Howard Crane gave us this magnificent

hall for classical music but that's

what this building is and all that other stuff

that is now considered part of the complex

of a major symphony hall was left out

because people that just wasn't on their radar

in those days so to have this beautiful

building attached, I think helped

everybody, staff, musicians, audience members.

I think it was critical again to make this

significant statement that we're here,

we're going to stay here, we're going

to help be a part of this community.

- You know what the orchestra did here

is they started buying up land

all around Orchestra Hall to make

expansion possible and then

they bought the Winkleman's warehouse

a block south of here

and built an office building

which they then leased

to the Detroit Medical Center

and there was ground floor retail.

Then they donate land to the

Detroit Public Schools so now

we've got this incredible performing

arts high school going up

so in Detroit what is more central

than reinventing an entire city block

which is basically what the orchestra did.

- When the orchestra hall finally reopened

that was one of the markers that said

we think we're back, we think Detroit has turned around.

It was early, we had a long way to go,

we still have a long way to go I think

but it was one of those ones that say

hey we can do this

and I think it was a point of civic pride

that's hard to equal.

- The only one event that will always

be embedded in my mind was the first night

we opened after we redid the hall.

I stood in the back and I had

this great fear that when I did the hall

I would've screwed up the acoustics.

So at the break, two people were next to me

who really knew and I said how are the acoustics?

They said they're fabulous, I said oh thank goodness.

I'll never forget that moment.

- [Narrator] The Max, as it was known,

had cemented a new cornerstone

for music and culture in the city

and lit the spark of further

revitalization down Woodward.

The hall would face one more challenge

though as health problems forced Neeme Järvi

to announce that after the ribbon was cut

on the DSO's expanded home, he would be moving on.

This time it would be the orchestra's

musical directorship and not the hall itself

that would sit empty, just when it needed it most.

- When I arrived in 2004 everyone

was feeling hopeful that the city

was coming back, that the cultural anchors

really stayed with the city

and the community and kept their doors open

in spite of everything and everything

was soon to be quite difficult again.

(upbeat music)

- Now let's check out some upcoming events

coming to you virtually from around the D.

(upbeat music)

Dark Room Detroit is making the art

of photography accessible to the citizens of Detroit.

Let's see how, now.

- As a nonprofit community organization,

giving the community access to cameras

is really important so people who are in the neighborhood

can stop by and check out a

you know Canon AE1 which is a great camera to learn on

and can come in and check it out for a week,

it actually costs nothing.

There's no money involved in that.

We loan those cameras out

with the hopes that people are discovering

a new art form or brushing up

on an old art form and they can come in

and borrow a camera, we'll show you how

to load the film, we regularly hold classes

that teach people how to process black and white film.

We have the facilities here for people

to do that themselves as well as make prints.

So you know giving access to the community

for sort of that whole spectrum of being

interested in something

all the way to creating a body of work

that makes them feel good about that journey

is really important to us.

We have a really great membership base.

Our membership base is currently

sitting around 100 people.

To be able to build a community of photographers

who are all sort of interested in the same thing

and then finding out beyond that

how we can all connect is really

important work for us.

Even now as sort of new as a lot of digital media is

and the way we consume imagery, I think

even younger people are starting to feel

that disconnection between their work

and how it's being made, and how it's being viewed

and there is some more importance

being put onto being able to physically

touch that and especially with things like

a print swap, you know it's a really great way

to interact with your community

with your fellow photographers,

fellow artists on this journey of making these

sort of very defined decisions on wanting to

you know create work in a specific way.

How can we facilitate that

and a lot of times it comes down

to something as simple as having access to film.

We are kind of far removed from the era of film.

Those things are hard to come by

and as we're seeing this resurgence or we're seeing

more and more access coming to

not just the artists but the people

who support them so I think yeah

it's a great thing happening for younger artists.

And the great thing about film photography

is the patience that is inherent

in the art form right, so having to be limited by

how many exposures you have on a roll of film

or what ISO your film is

and how it works in

certain lighting conditions

all those things help photographers

develop a style and develop a workflow.

And film's really great 'cause it has

all those things built into it

so we've had some gallery walkthroughs

of shows that have been up around the city,

photo walks trying to bring in people

to talk to our members about things

that are important to them,

sometimes it's about ensuring the equipment.

Sometimes it's about what you know

legal ramifications you might have

if you're shooting somewhere in public.

We've done really great architectural photo walks,

things that our members say these are things

that are important to us, that we like

and being able to facilitate that to them

in a way that is sort of you know

impactful but not impossible

for us to do on a regular basis

so as a community organization

we recognize that an important

part of interacting with our community

is interacting with its youth

so being able to offer youth classes

and workshops and working with other

organizations in our community is really important to us.

So in the past year we've partnered

with a few organizations, Capturing Belief,

as well as the Downtown Boxing Gym

and finding organizations

that have access to youth that want to learn

how to make images is really great.

So for us to be able to go in there

with you know five or six cameras

and find kids that really want to learn

and teach them from the basics

all the way to printing work and having

an exhibition of that work is a really great

for building a generation of

a new generation of you know Detroit photographers.

(upbeat music)

- 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 coming arts events.

Also check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Make sure you're staying safe out there

and we'll continue to bring you the best

of Detroit's art scene.

Until next time, get out there

and show the world how Detroit performs, y'all.

I'm DJ Oliver, thanks for watching, guys.

- [Announcer] Funding for Detroit Performs

is provided by, the Fred A. And Barbara M. Erb

Family Foundation, the Kresge Foundation,

the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan,

the A. Paul and Carol C. Schaap Foundation,

the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs,

the National Endowment for the Arts,

the DeRoy Testamentary Foundation,

and by contributions to your PBS station

from viewers like you, thank you.

(upbeat music)

(light piano music)


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