This weekend, Detroit will host MicroFest USA, an arts initiative that aims to foster a dialogue about society’s most pressing issues. Curated by the national coalition of ensemble-based theaters, (The Network of Ensemble Theaters), the festival will travel around the United States focusing on ‘place-based art making’ -- how art contributes to healthy, vibrant communities. Scroll down for videos of the performers.
Over the course of three days, August 17-19, the festival will burst at the seams with performances, lectures, and panelists -- all engaging in conversations about performance as a vehicle of change. “Although Detroit’s community is fraught with limited resources and its socio-economic narrative is dominated by devastation, the city has become a model for artist/activist-led, collaborative, guerilla-style, grassroots action and community-driven revitalization,” the Network of Ensemble Theaters notes on their website.
From The Hinterlands Ensemble to the Mosaic Youth Theater (to a dozen more Detroit theaters), these companies have sprung up to encourage conversations about ourselves and our place in our communities. As The Hinterlands Ensemble beautifully describes in their mission statement, “Our Mission: To create essential, immediate, and visceral performances which propel our audiences into a landscape of questions, possibilities, and unknowns.”
MicroFest aspires to serve as a springboard for an urgent national dialogue around issues of urban planning, food sustainability, prison reform, and performance. This year’s cycle will also travel to Appalachia (Knoxville, TN and Harlan, KY), New Orleans, and Honolulu.
We caught up with Mark Valdez the executive director of the Network of Ensemble Theaters (NET) about the aims of this incredible project.
HP: What does the MicroFest USA initiative aim to do?
Valdez: The aim of the MicroFest USA initiative is to foster field-wide discourse around pressing topics. Because NET is the type of organization that we are, we are interested in those issues dealing with equity, culture, community, justice, human rights/dignity, etc. Because we are artists, we find that the best way to enter into this discourse is through art/theater. By using art to show a process or introduce ideas, it becomes easier to engage in a conversation if we just tried to program conversation without art.
Our hope is that by hosting these events (which we do in collaboration with local partners) that we can lead the field, taking on the challenges and issues that are barriers to a healthy, well function, relevant field.
HP: How did you pick the host sites?
Valdez: Without meaning to sound cavalier, we go where we need to go, to where the work is. For our current cycle, we selected these cities because there are communities that are underserved; whose national profile has been significantly shaped by what is mostly a false "mainstream" depiction, e.g. Detroit as a racially torn apart city full of danger and abandoned; Appalachia as backwoods, or hillbilly; etc. The work taking place in these communities, perhaps because they are facing long standing challenges, is truly innovative and inspirational. There is cross sector, cross disciplinary, grassroots solutions being offered to address the types of challenges that, increasingly, the rest of the national will be facing.
HP: Why Detroit specifically?
Valdez: We selected Detroit because it’s a city deep in transformation. This place, which has always been seen as a large, “urban” dwelling is in the process of redefining how they see themselves and how they’re seen by the rest of the nation. Once the fourth largest city in America, Detroit now has a population smaller than Jacksonville, FL (the city experienced a 25% loss of its population in the last decade—many of the citizens who are leaving are middle-class African Americans).
The city is at a crossroad, yet there is unquestionably an air of optimism, sparked mostly by a new generation of artists and activists who are committed to revitalizing their community.
For more information and a schedule of events from MicroFest USA Detroit go here.
Take a look at the slideshow below to see a sampling of some of the performers at this weekend's festival.