Library Street Collective co-founders Anthony & JJ Curis announce an ambitious public arts campus in the East Village, a neighborhood located on the eastside of Detroit. At the heart of the plan is the Shepherd, a one hundred ten-year-old Romanesque-style church, most recently identified as Good Shepherd before closing in 2016. The church will be transformed into a cultural arts center with multi-faceted programming focused on exhibitions, public projects, and performance. The adaptive reuse of the church, led by the architectural design firm Peterson Rich Office (PRO), will keep the integrity of the original architecture intact while creating two new gallery spaces, a public library, and ample classroom and workshop space for the local community. The main gallery will allow for programming opportunities on the mezzanine, while the church altar will be outfitted as a space for performance and musical programming. The grounds of the Shepherd will offer over 2.5 acres of new, publicly accessible park and green space to the local community, designed by the firm OSD. The Curises have been working closely with the City of Detroit, members of the East Village community, and other neighboring arts organizations on plans to designate this area as Detroit’s next cultural district.
“We are delighted to share the exciting plans for the East Village on a new creative hub that will become an important part of the fabric of our city. By working closely with the local community, this new project will be an accessible and creative arts center that we can all be proud of in Detroit. We look forward to unveiling the larger plans for the cultural district in the coming months,” said Rochelle Riley, director of the City of Detroit’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship.
The Curises view the Shepherd as a space that not only blurs the lines between commercial gallery, institution, and community arts center but also as an opportunity for collaboration with galleries, museums, and arts organizations, both locally and abroad. Asmaa Walton, independent curator and founder of Black Art Library, will curate the new East Village Arts Library collection, which will be housed within one of the Shepherd’s transepts and comprised of a public archive focused on artists of color who have made significant contributions to the arts in Michigan. The church confessionals will be repurposed into multimedia listening booths for the public to enjoy audio and video materials related to the archive. Walton will also have her first permanent version of Black Art Library included in the space, which will offer artist monographs, exhibition catalogues, children’s books, and rare research materials centered around Black artists and movements.
“Art is essential in starting important conversations and changing opinions. My work with Black Art Library has been dedicated to promoting arts education on Black art and visual culture, ensuring that this is accessible to all communities and filling gaps that our institutions have left. I am thrilled to partner with Anthony and JJ and curate the East Village Arts Library, which will create substantial change in Detroit, offering greater resources and making art more accessible to local communities,” said Asmaa Walton, curator of the East Village Arts Library and founder of Black Art Library.
The inaugural exhibition at the Shepherd will be a retrospective of one of Detroit’s greatest artists, the late Charles McGee, developed in partnership with Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). Charles McGee’s career chronicled the Black experience and sustained optimism regarding the future of Detroit and its people. Immediately adjacent to the church, the Curises are spearheading the development of a public sculpture garden, titled the Charles McGee Legacy Park, to honor the life of the late Detroit artist. The Legacy Park will encourage play and creative discovery, feature three large-scale sculptures (8-12ft tall), and debut the artist’s first figurative work in public sculpture. McGee completed the designs for the Legacy Park prior to his passing earlier this year. The project is financially supported by Dan and Jennifer Gilbert and the Curises through a partnership with Jefferson East, Inc., a multi-service neighborhood organization that serves low-income populations on Detroit’s east side and five adjoining historic neighborhoods. Once completed in Summer 2023, the park will be fully accessible to the public.
Portrait of Charles McGee, 2017. Photo by Sal Rodriguez.
“My father loved the city of Detroit and its people, and the plans for East Village gave him great joy, especially knowing that it would anchor a cultural district in the city. This bold and important project is moving forward thanks to the vision of Anthony and JJ Curis, particularly their dedication to expanding the city’s public cultural resources for future generations. There is no better legacy for him than a meditative place that has the express purpose of enabling the public, especially children and younger generations, to experience and be inspired by art,” said Lyndsay McGee, Charles McGee’s daughter.
Charles McGee, Giants in Union, 2022. Rendering by Ignition Arts.
Plans also include a boutique bed and breakfast which will be housed in the converted church rectory. The bed and breakfast, located between the Charles McGee Legacy Park and the Shepherd, will feature six guest rooms and suites overlooking the Legacy Park and its surrounding grounds. Further, the former rectory will serve as the headquarters of Detroit-native and celebrated artist McArthur Binion’s foundation, the Modern Ancient Brown Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the intersection between the visual and literary arts in the Detroit community. The foundation provides mentorship and resources to Black, Indigenous and people of color artists in Detroit, and empowers them to tell their own stories.
McArthur Binion and Nia Batts. Photo by Bre'Ann White. Courtesy of Modern Ancient Brown.
Binion will also have a hand in shaping the physical landscape at the Shepherd. Following up on a public partnership between the Curises and legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk in 2017, the Curises and Hawk, along with the support of professional skateboarder Alec Beck and artist McArthur Binion, will partner on a permanent skatepark that will be located on the grounds of the Shepherd. Beyond skateboarding, the park will be a gathering space for the neighborhood. Tony Hawk and his team will lead the functional design of the park, with McArthur Binion overseeing the artistic design. Upon its completion, the skatepark will be fully accessible to the public.
The grounds surrounding the Shepherd will be transformed into green space for the public to enjoy. Designed by OSD, a multidisciplinary design group aimed at building resilient and equitable communities, the centerpiece of the landscape will be a pedestrian walkway called the Nave. Previously a vacated and desolate alley, the Nave will connect the Shepherd with the surrounding neighborhood. At the heart of the Nave, a former parking lot will be repurposed into a café.
Located directly behind the church and adjacent to the future skatepark will be BridgeHouse. Designed by Detroit-based studio UNDECORATED, the redevelopment will convert two vacant residential houses into four intimate commercial spaces intended for arts-specific uses. Both houses will be restored and encapsulated within a two-story deck that will provide outdoor space and viewing opportunities into the skatepark and grounds, while also functioning as a stage for intimate performances.
“We’re approaching our 10th year with Library Street Collective and truly appreciate the support that Detroit has given us over the years. We’ve worked closely with the City of Detroit, members of the East Village community and neighboring organizations to ensure that this project is inclusive, accessible, and representative of the local neighborhood. We are thrilled to announce this project today and look forward to collaborating with other arts organizations in creating exciting future programming in the neighborhood,” said Anthony and JJ Curis.
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Library Street Collective
Library Street Collective specializes in the presentation of contemporary art with a focus on artists who have pushed the boundaries of traditional medium and exhibition space. Located in the heart of downtown Detroit, our exhibition and public programs contribute to the artistic renaissance of the city’s public, private, and heritage spaces, while focusing on meaningful ways to impact our community. It is our mission to bring both world-renowned artists and exciting new work to a reimagined Detroit, as well as carry this sentiment as we expand our presence through exhibitions, special projects and art fairs nationally and internationally.