By Bill McGraw | Bridge Magazine
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is distributing $682,000 to seven groups for cultural projects that examine the causes and legacy of Detroit’s 1967 civil unrest, as its 50th anniversary approaches next July.
Some of the projects are based on oral histories collected during that era and today, and others will reflect 1967 through theater, dance, music, museum exhibitions, crowd-sourced home movies and the staging of the critically acclaimed play, “Detroit ’67,” by Detroiter Dominique Morisseau.
“Journalists can report what happened, but artists can describe what it means and how it feels on a deep, human level,” Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president, said in a statement announcing the awards. “Detroit artists can interpret the events of 1967 and create empathy among neighbors who share a past, present and a future.”
These projects complement the work of the Knight and Ford Foundation-funded Detroit Journalism Cooperative, which includes Bridge Magazine, whose yearlong project, “The Intersection,” explores whether the problems that led to civil unrest have improved in the five decades since. (The nonprofit DJC also includes Detroit Public Television (DPTV), Michigan Radio, WDET and New Michigan Media, and involves additional funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.)
“With contributions from arts organizations and others who lived through and reflect upon the summer of 1967, these projects ensure that Detroiters tell their own stories and continue to shape our city’s narrative,” said Katy Locker, Detroit program director for the Miami-based Knight Foundation.
A Detroit police raid on an after-hours drinking establishment on July 23, 1967 ignited fives days of violence that resulted in 43 people dead, 7,231 arrests and 2,509 looted or burned stores. While Detroit at the time had been dealing with industrial decline and white flight for nearly two decades, the riot – often called a rebellion – left the city and region traumatized and struggling for years to recover.
The Knight grant recipients are:
Big City Films: $100,000 for a documentary series as part of a school curriculum on race relations.
Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History: $125,000 for exhibitions and a memorial fence that will contain Detroiters’ reflections on 1967.
Detroit Historical Society: $200,000 for community engagement for the exhibition “Detroit ’67: Looking Back to Move Forward” at the Detroit Historical Museum.
Detroit Institute of Arts: $30,000 for screenings of archival films and home movies on a project involving the Detroit Free Press, the Wright Museum, WSU’s Walter P. Reuther Library and the San Francisco-based Prelinger Archives.
Detroit Public Theatre: $60,000 for the mobile production of the play “Detroit ’67,” written by Detroiter Dominique Morisseau.
The Residential College in the Arts and Humanities at Michigan State University: $100,000 for the stage production “AFTER/LIFE,” which focuses on the stories of women and girls in 1967.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: $67,000 for the exhibition “Sonic Rebellion: Music as Resistance,” an examination of Detroit’s music, visual art and history.