A state senator who went viral and a singer-songwriter on a president’s playlist. A baseball legend and a rising soccer star. A commodore and an art curator. The man behind opera’s evolution and a woman DJing in the big leagues. An artist, a CEO, a community organizer, an auto industry giant. From every corner of metro Detroit, these are the people making the Motor City what it is — and what it’s becoming.
The Brick Wall // The Senator with the Speech // The Creative Genius // The Slugger // The Captain // The DJ // The Curator // The Singer-Songwriter // The Commodore // The Artist // The Welcome Wagon // The Change-Maker
The Detroit City FC goalkeeper helped take the club to the playoffs its first year in a new league, but it’s the community work through the club that has helped him leave the biggest impact.
By Christina Clark
There is no more sleeping on Detroit City Football Club.
After winning the National Independent Soccer Association championship in 2021, Detroit’s professional soccer team, which started as a grassroots organization in 2012, moved up to the United Soccer League in 2022.
They were the underdogs given the nickname “NISA All-Stars” and weren’t expected to make it very far their first year in the league, but despite all the skepticism, they reached the play-offs. While many factors went into the success of Le Rouge this year, there’s no denying that goalkeeper Nathan “Nate” Steinwascher is toward the top of that list.
Known as The Brick Wall of Detroit City (or Nate Steinmonster) by the club’s ravenous supporters, Steinwascher came into the 2022 season with back-to-back Golden Glove Awards, 19 clean sheets (shutouts), and a record of 23-5-1 in 2021. During the 2022 season, he had 92 saves and 12 clean sheets — the second most in the league for both — and won the fan-favorite Black Arrow Award.
It’s a solid record and one that Steinwascher, who is also a certified public accountant and a dad of two, says he wouldn’t have achieved without his wife, Catie; their family; City’s fans; and of course, his teammates.
“A lot of people didn’t think we’d be able to do something like this,” he says. “But the core people within this club know what they’re capable of … so for some of us it’s not a surprise.”
Steinwascher, who grew up in Sterling Heights, says that he has been playing soccer for as long as he can remember.
“My father came from Peru, [and] having South American blood, it just runs in the family,” he explains. “Just growing up in that environment and then having a competitive atmosphere has helped me get here today.”
As a kid, Steinwascher started out playing defender and midfielder before stepping into goal at age 10 or 11 for a friend who needed heart surgery.
“I don’t like running that much, so I said, ‘I’ll go back in goal and give it a shot,’” he says with a laugh.
When his friend returned about 6-8 months later, his teammates preferred Steinwascher in goal — and he preferred it, too.
“I have a naturally observant personality, so [I enjoy being] able to see everything in front of me and knowing everything that is going on on the field,” he says. “Dealing with the pressure is always fun. I know a lot of people don’t enjoy it as much, but sometimes I kind of relish in that spotlight. The more pressure, in some instances, the better I can play, [and] my personality comes out a bit on the field.”
Steinwascher continued playing soccer while studying at the University of Detroit Mercy. He was redshirted for an injury in 2011, trained with Detroit City FC in 2012, and then played with the Michigan Bucks (now the Flint City Bucks) from 2013 to 2015 before returning to Detroit City in 2016. He’s been playing with the club ever since.
But it’s not all the club, its success, or the game that Steinwascher sees making the most impact in the community. It’s the club’s five youth affiliate programs across the city and metro area, which give kids a path to play soccer long term, that he finds most valuable.
“Being a community club in Detroit has helped open up pathways for youth to play soccer within the city, and that’s the whole goal that this ownership group has taken: How can we make soccer as accessible to youth in the city as possible? I think we’ve been really successful at doing that,” he says.
Through the youth programs, City’s players work with the kids on their skills and show them that playing at a higher level is possible, which is something Steinwascher loves doing.
“It’s really cool to have that kind of connection, and for the club to put us in those positions where we can be a role model, I think it’s really huge for the club and the city,” he says. “As hard as the kids work on the field, they’re so much fun off the field, and I want to be a role model giving back to these kids and giving back to the community as much as possible.”
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For the state senator from Royal Oak, it’s not about Democrats vs. Republicans. It’s about ‘decency.’
By Scott Atkinson
On April 19, 2022, Mallory McMorrow sat down to write a speech. She had a lot to say — or, rather, a lot to respond to.
The day before, the state senator representing Michigan’s then-13th District had received a strange critique from a Republican colleague, who, in a campaign email, accused McMorrow and other Democrats of being “outraged” that they weren’t able to “groom and sexualize” kindergarteners.
She had been thinking about what to say and how to say it, and in the end, there were two words she decided not to use: “Democrat” and “Republican.”
“I thought about this a lot. Because when it’s just Democrats versus Republicans, I think everybody tunes out at this point,” she says.
“So I crossed it all out, and I ended up just writing about myself. I didn’t say ‘Democrat’ or ‘Republican’ once. I did not name-call. I did not accuse anybody of anything else,” she says.
She spoke about her involvement in her church as a young woman, and the lessons her mother taught her — that being a Christian wasn’t about going to church so much as it was being of service to others, “especially people who are marginalized, targeted, and had less, often unfairly.”
While she avoided political name-calling, she was also clearly striking back and drawing an ideological line in the sand, saying, “I learned that service was far more important than performative nonsense like being seen in the same pew every Sunday or writing ‘Christian’ in your Twitter bio and using it as a shield to target and marginalize already marginalized people.”
The speech — delivered on the floor of the Senate on April 19, 2022 — you could say, worked. It was viewed 9 million times in the first 24 hours, and McMorrow ended up on CNN, PBS, and MSNBC and was written about in just about every newspaper you can think of. On April 28, Intelligencer dubbed her “the Democrats’ newest star.” Politico ran a headline in July that read “It’s official: The attack on McMorrow backfired.”
In August, due to redistricting, McMorrow was pitted against her colleague state Sen. Marshall Bullock for the newly drawn 8th District, which now includes parts of Oakland County along with a corner of northwest Wayne County (the 13th District was only Oakland County municipalities). She won handily, but the victory was not celebrated by all: Her win ruled out the chance that a Black man from Detroit would be in the Michigan Senate.
In November, McMorrow won her reelection against Republican Brandon Ronald Simpson in a landslide.
Before she entered the world of politics, McMorrow, who received her bachelor’s degree in industrial design from the University of Notre Dame, had a pretty good gig going. She had worked for years as a designer in different industries, including a long stint designing toy cars for Hot Wheels, and had opened her own consultancy when she, like many Americans, saw politics take a turn with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016.
Shortly after the election, friends from all over the country (she is from New Jersey and has lived in five states) were sending her links to another viral video of students chanting “Build that wall” in front of a Michigan school. Had she seen it? Yes, she told them — she’d voted there just a few days before. It was Royal Oak Middle School.
“And there was something about the fact that it was kids and kids who learned that this was OK from, you know, watching Donald Trump or, worse, from their parents or family members who realized this was the way forward, to blame somebody who looks different. That broke me. So I Googled how to run for office,” she says.
She attended the Women’s March in Detroit (new to protesting, friends told her to write an emergency contact on her arm and to bring milk to help fight the effects of tear gas; she ended up needing neither) and later found her way to a nonprofit called Emerge America, which helps Democratic women prepare to run for office.
She learned how to fundraise and campaign and build a team. During this time, she also got married and, a month later, filed to run against then-Republican state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, eventually flipping the district blue.
It was a seat that would prove not very difficult to defend. There was her viral video and the fact that, as she puts it, “I’ve been a pretty popular target for attacks.” Since the beginning of her political career, those attacks have largely ended up working in her favor.
In 2018, Republicans sent out a mailer with a picture of McMorrow sipping a margarita, saying she wanted to “bring her California ideas to Michigan.” It featured, for some reason, a large picture of a curling iron. The Detroit Free Press ran an op-ed not long after with the headline “Sexism’s not dead in 2018 midterm elections.”
In 2022, in the wake of the comments from state Sen. Lana Theis, a Republican from Brighton, about “grooming” and McMorrow’s subsequent response, Republicans were much more quiet.
When she was defending her seat in 2022, it was difficult to find a picture of her opponent or, really, anything about him. There was no campaign literature, no platform, no campaigning that McMorrow was aware of — only, it seemed, a name, a box for hard-line party voters to check if they wanted. McMorrow, it would seem, was not worth the effort or resources to try to beat. She won with just over 75 percent of the vote.
Democrats won enough seats for the state House and Senate that both chambers are now blue, paving the way for McMorrow — now the Senate majority whip — to try to push through bills that have, until now, sat dormant.
But McMorrow refrains from saying Democrats won. After years of politicians spreading claims of fraudulent elections, and after seeing the candidates that touted such beliefs largely lose, McMorrow says what won was “decency,” democracy, and “a basic belief in the function of government.”
Following the midterm elections, though, McMorrow says her office was “flooded” with emails claiming election fraud. “It was sobering,” she says.
And so, she says, there is still a lot of work to do. And if there are any other attacks? Well …
“If they expect that I’m not going to hit back, they don’t know me.”
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He brought opera to the people of Detroit. Now the people are coming to the opera house.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper
Yuval Sharon has made us fall in love with the opera in ways we never imagined we could. And we’re not the only ones under his spell.
Sharon brought the first sellout to the downtown opera house in over 15 years with a production of X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X last season.
That’s an impressive feat for an artistic director who took over in 2020, immediately confronted by the COVID-19 pandemic and choosing to respond by staging the final opera of Wagner’s Ring cycle in a parking garage to rave reviews from The New York Times.
It brought the Chicago native a wave of accolades, including a spot on Time’s 2022 “Time100 Next” list, which dubbed Detroit Opera under his leadership the “most innovative opera company in America.”
The national spotlight is always a positive for Detroit’s remarkable creative scene, but it’s that Malcolm X sellout that shines the brightest for us and, ultimately, for local audiences.
X originally premiered in 1986, and the work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Anthony Davis has seldom been staged since.
Sharon saw an opportunity for the production to resonate with Black audiences in Detroit, who are not only aware of Malcolm X’s roots in the city but are also rarely courted or represented by the distinctly Eurocentric art form of opera.
“We have had a massive restart on everything” since the pandemic, Sharon says, sitting in his humble office tucked away inside the Detroit Opera House. “It means that the things we found about opera that we just assumed we could not change about opera — the class structure, the Eurocentrism — this is the moment to explode all of those expectations and notions,” Sharon says.
Sharon made his name in Los Angeles, where, in 2010, he founded and still serves as a co-artistic director of The Industry, an experimental opera company. His work was noticed by many, including the MacArthur Foundation, which awarded him with a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2017. He says he took the gig in Detroit to blow up stale ideas about opera as an art form and hopefully invite new audiences to give it a shot.
The “explosion” has meant utilizing groundbreaking green screen and camera technology to bring a bit of techno-rave to Wagner’s Ring cycle with The Valkyries and performing one of the most famous and referenced operas of all time — La Bohème — in reverse to give the story a fresh spin.
It also meant reducing the La Bohème running time considerably, knowing that lengthy spells in the theater are a tough selling point for newcomers to the art form. And that seems to resonate strongly with Detroiters, says Sharon, who lives in the city.
“Thinking about new music, new projects, but even older operas that can be given a fresh perspective,” Sharon says. “There’s an enthusiastic audience here that realizes opera doesn’t have to seem so distant from our lives and so distant from other things that we love, like other types of art and music.”
Sharon says he’s dreaming of staging an opera that is purely Detroit — something that embraces the jazz, the techno, and other cultural exports that make this city a world- class cultural destination.
In the meantime, the 2023 season has major highlights that could see another sellout at Detroit Opera.
One of those is the 18th-century baroque opera Xerxes, which lands here in March. It’s a Detroit Opera premiere that will blend comedy and drama in a fast-paced, innovative production.
“That’s a quite elegant production — there’s no green screen,” Sharon laughs, “but it’s also the first time the company has ever done it. So, if you’re a real opera lover, this is still a real rarity and the first time Detroit will hear it.”
In April, Ainadamar — Arabic for “Fountain of Tears” — will have a Detroit Opera premiere, bringing to life the Spanish poet, playwright, and national icon Federico García Lorca, who was executed by fascists during the Spanish Civil War.
“There’s electronica in it, there’s flamenco in it — a flamenco singer next to an opera singer to tell this Spanish story. It’s so good.”
And if you’re willing to pay attention and give opera a shot, Sharon will have a seat ready for you on his wild ride with the Detroit Opera.
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Following a banner year, theTigers’ superstar says he expects 2023 will be his final season playing ball.
By Ronald Ahrens
He presents a unique case: the prodigy who lived up to the promise. The picture got wavy sometimes, but on the precipice of his 16th — and what he expects to be his final — season with the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera is coming off a year for the record books, joining Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only players to average over .300, hit 500-plus home runs, and surpass 3,000 base hits.
Cabrera, who turns 40 in April, announced in late November 2022 that he expects this season to be his last.
“It feels a little weird to say that,” Cabrera said to MLB.com. “I thought, I’m not going to say never, but I think it’s time to say goodbye to baseball.”
Baseball has been his whole life. José Miguel Cabrera Torres was born in 1983 in Maracay, the metropolis of Venezuela’s Aragua state. Both parents played ball, and an uncle had professional experience. Miggy was still a teenager when the Florida (now Miami) Marlins offered $1.8 million. He spent four years in the minor leagues before he moved up to the majors in 2003. One accomplishment in his rookie major league campaign was a World Series home run against Roger Clemens of the New York Yankees.
Before the 2008 season, as the Marlins were cutting their payroll, the Tigers traded six prospects for Cabrera and pitcher Dontrelle Willis. Dave Dombrowski, the general manager and architect of the Marlins, had moved to Detroit as president and chief executive and then added general manager duties. He guided the signing of Cabrera to an eight-year, $152.3 million contract, making him one of the richest people in the Motor City during the global financial crisis and bankruptcies of General Motors Co., Chrysler, and eventually, the city of Detroit.
Against the dire social and economic backdrop, Cabrera led the Tigers to four straight American League Central titles and postseason playoffs from 2011 to 2014, including the 2012 World Series.
Among many achievements and records, Cabrera’s 2012 feat stands out. He batted .330, slammed 44 homers, and drove in 139 basemen to lead the league in each category, becoming the only player to win the Triple Crown since 1967.
In 2014, Cabrera got eight more years at $248 million, but the team faltered. Dombrowski left in 2015. There has been one winning season since, along with a reasonable question concerning the value of the superstar’s maximum contract amid continual rebuilding of the team’s roster.
Through it all, however, Cabrera has given Tigers fans something to cheer. This past season’s chase for his 3,000th hit and 2021’s for his 500th home run created an energy in Comerica Park that hadn’t been experienced for years. He remains a fan favorite, not only because he moves the entire city with his bat but also because of his relaxed, keep-it-real persona.
Downplaying his records, Cabrera continues to inspire us with his dedication to the craft of baseball and his oft-expressed desire to win. Giving interviews isn’t his forte, but sometimes he distills his thoughts to a few pungent drops. Last spring, after a good night against the Yankees took him to hit number 2,999, he answered an ESPN reporter’s question on the imminent milestone with “Who the f— cares? We lost. When has this game ever been about individual accomplishments?”
The auto industry/racing giant remains a man in motion, expanding his business and adapting to change while always being a good neighbor.
By Ronald Ahrens
For Roger Penske, the past autumn was yet another bellwether season. Team Penske won the NTT IndyCar championship with Chevrolet power and captured the NASCAR Cup Series with a Ford Mustang. Turning 86 in February, Penske, a guiding force in Detroit since the 1960s, became the first team owner to win both titles in the same year, adding to a trophy collection that, lined up, would stretch a considerable distance across Oakland County.
Yet the chair of Penske Corp. cannot slow down to bask in glory. The last weeks of 2022 were hectic, with an ever-changing travel schedule. He had budget reviews and end-of-year evaluations at business units that encompass such far-flung interests as truck leasing, car dealerships, and ownership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There were also appearance commitments and — huff-puff! — the holidays.
How to keep pace is one question, but Penske always finds something new and bigger to manage and groom. For example, nudged along by “The Captain,” the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear is moving from Belle Isle to a new course downtown, approximately where the first Detroit Grand Prix was contested 41 years ago by Formula 1 cars.
“Bringing the Grand Prix back home to the streets of downtown Detroit is going to bring a new level of excitement and energy to this event and to our city,” Penske explains in an email. “It will be a shorter circuit than Belle Isle, which means people will get to see the cars more often.”
Penske promises “a fast and technical circuit with many unique challenges.” Cars will rip down Jefferson Avenue at 180 miles per hour before hurling themselves into the mayhem of a “wide hairpin turn at the end of the straight, just past the Joe Louis ‘Fist.’”
In other words, expect action. And get ready for “a double-sided pit lane with half of the field pitting on the left and the other half on the right, which has never been done before.”
Are you feeling the vroom? Dedicated fans and the merely curious will have greater access to the action. “Half the event’s footprint will be open to fans — for free — all weekend long.”
Penske slurped up ownership of IndyCar along with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2020. Good thing his knack for promotion goes back to 1972, when he picked up Michigan International Speedway, then five years old, for less than half that track’s construction costs. (He sold it in 1999 after a multitude of improvements.) Executed when the Ohio native was 35 years old, the MIS acquisition followed a pattern that went back to the 1950s during his time at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. During those days, Penske fixed up used cars and resold them. After earning his business administration degree, he became an acclaimed racing driver, towing a Porsche RSK Spyder behind a tawdry station wagon.
Why else would a young man have a station wagon? Wins came in Corvettes, a Pontiac Catalina stock car at Riverside International Raceway in California, and the Texan innovator Jim Hall’s Chaparral 2, a sexy sports car, at Nassau, Bahamas.
If nothing else, Penske is self-possessed. He summoned the wherewithal to quit racing at 28 in order to buy McKean Chevrolet, on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, where he was general manager. By then, Chevy’s leaders knew him well, and the impetus to complete the dealership’s purchase came from Chevy chief Bunkie Knudsen, who asked, “Are you going to be a race driver or a businessman?” Penske’s parents had challenged him to excel; the world sees the result.
Beyond Chevrolet, Penske has always lusted for Porsche. On the June Saturday after the 2023 Detroit Grand Prix, his newest team, Porsche Penske Motorsport, debuts in the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the ravishing Porsche 963, a set of sunglasses on wheels. He’s already said he’s in the classic French endurance race to win it.
“We have a long history with Porsche in sports car racing, and we are excited about this new opportunity and the chance to add to our legacy together,” he tells us. “This represents a true global partnership, as Porsche Penske Motorsport will compete with a hybrid prototype across two different series — one based in the U.S. and one based in Europe.”
In other words, Roger Penske needs more air miles.
Beyond the macro empire look — comprising 70,000 people in nine countries on four continents — there are focused initiatives in the name of diversity. One is the alliance with Paretta Autosport, a recipient of technical help from Team Penske. New in 2021, the IndyCar team led by Beth Paretta, a Detroit-area resident, builds around veteran Swiss driver Simona de Silvestro with the goal of developing a competitive unit placing women in all capacities from engineering to pit stops.
After conquest of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2020, Penske looked around. “We formed the Race for Equality and Change to recruit and develop a more diverse workforce across all areas of our sport,” he says. He had long known Paretta, who also started out in car dealerships and became a formidable leader.
“We reached out as we began to build a sustainable program for the future.”
New heroes are in demand. As part of the effort to broaden interest and participation in motorsports, Penske has supported the rise of Myles Rowe, a 22-year-old Black driver from Atlanta who has triumphed in the U.S. F2000 National Championship development series. Another young Black driver, Ernie Francis, learned from Penske that his presence is desired this May or next on the starting grid of the Indianapolis 500.
“Beyond the drivers,” Penske says, “we have also welcomed a more diverse group of engineers, mechanics, and leaders to our teams across the paddock.”
Plenty of folks watching the Detroit races on television will look beyond the commotion to Penske’s goodwill and unimpeachable reputation. He has always been neighborly, and fairness is his trademark. Serving as chair of the Downtown Detroit Partnership from 2005 to 2010, he created the Roger Penske Detroit Fund to endow a homeless outreach program. In 2016, M-1 Rail dedicated its Penske Technical Center as the maintenance and operations hub for the QLine streetcars. Another $5 million came from Penske Corp. in 2019 to revive the Lenox Center in the Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood.
“I wasn’t around when the [tech center] was built, but I think the naming of the facility is definitely reflective of Roger’s support,” says Lisa Nuszkowski, president and chief operating officer of M-1 Rail, which operates the QLine. “Not just for this initiative but really for all of the activities in the city since the Super Bowl when he championed those efforts.”
Aside from all the good deeds, anyone meeting Penske finds out he’s just a nice guy who may want to you to own one of the 600 Ferraris his stores will sell this year. Or if commercial trucks are more your speed, the Premier Truck Group offers Freightliner and Western Star medium- and heavy-duty units at Team Truck Centres in Windsor, Sarnia, Cambridge, and London, Ontario. He grew up going to the Indy 500 with his dad. Now he owns the track and every other IndyCar race. He’s going to Le Mans with Porsche. The organization is reinvigorated.
With all of this, we couldn’t help but ask: What’s next? “I plan to keep my foot on the gas and drive forward,” he says.
From playing at local clubs to performing at the Big House and Detroit’s professional sports venues, the Ann Arbor native’s accomplishments have our heads spinning.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper
People love to say that music brings people together.
In Nicole Myint’s line of work, there’s a lot of truth to back that phrase up.
In less than a decade, the 41-year-old from Ann Arbor, who goes by DJ Myint, has stacked up gigs and accolades like records on a shelf.
She’s worked as a DJ for the Pistons, Red Wings, Lions, and Tigers, but like a highly coveted draft pick, she started making a name for herself in the college ranks.
It was about eight years ago when she was DJing in her hometown that the University of Michigan pegged her to play an event celebrating the return of Nike to U-M as the official apparel provider.
“We were trying to create a block party, make it like a club atmosphere,” says Jake Stocker, director of game presentation and fan experience for Michigan Athletics, of the party that brought more than 6,000 people to State Street. He had never seen Myint play, but he had heard about her from a “number of people and seeing her social media presence. Nicole was the perfect DJ to come in for that.”
The relationship grew, with Myint doing hockey games and two major soccer events (the International Champions Cup) at the Big House and then landing more permanent roles with Michigan volleyball and gymnastics.
From there, the major leagues started calling. First the Pistons, who hired her to DJ for women’s empowerment month and later as an official pregame DJ. 2022 also began her work with the Tigers and Red Wings (she is currently their pre-game DJ) and the Lions (she DJs the VIP pregame).
In September 2022, she spun tracks in the Big House before and during a U-M football game. And by the end of the year, her resume included playing dozens of Detroit’s biggest venues and institutions, including the Fox Theatre, Pine Knob, the Detroit Institute of Arts, and The Henry Ford.
“I’ve always had a passion for music,” says Myint, who recently bought a house in Detroit. “My parents played all kinds of genres. I grew up on everything from country to Motown to rock music. My older brother got me into listening to hip-hop as well.”
With a background in event planning, it didn’t take much for Myint to grow her clientele. She had already made so many connections along the way.
And regardless of the type of event — her website features testimonials from satisfied brides and grooms — she doesn’t script what she’s going to play ahead of time. It’s all about feeling out the room and the crowd and following that sonic stream of consciousness to put together a perfect playlist on the fly.
“I never forget the smaller venues that gave me a start years ago,” Myint says.
That sense of passion and purpose has helped Myint build up quite a following of fans in a short period of time.
“I know a lot of people have followed my career since the beginning. It was alot of grind and passion. I believe anyone can reach their goals in their life if they put their heart and energy towards it,” Myint says.
Her own goals for the future? To keep expanding her reach beyond Michigan to around the globe, playing to international audiences. And while she will always play hot records to get massive crowds moving, she wants to focus on pro- ducing her own work, too, and adding that to her mix-tape arsenal.
It’s about offering a musical buffet to the audience, Myint says.
“[I] always want to play positive music,” she adds. “I do a lot of weddings, but I’m not your cliche wedding DJ. People want to go places. There are popular hits out there, but not everyone wants to hear the same thing all the time.”
Like any good buffet, it’s gotta stay fresh.
“Keeping it different, keeping it diverse — you gotta play for everyone in the room,” Myint says.
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It took six years and a major setback, but Jill Shaw brought a stunning once-in-a-lifetime Van Gogh exhibit to the DIA.
By Scott Atkinson
It only took six more years to make it happen.
“I’m on cloud nine,” she said shortly after an unveiling event during which Vincent van Gogh’s great-grandniece, Josien van Gogh, spoke and answered questions. “I’ve worked on this for so long.”
The hardest part, she says, was the fact that she had to organize the exhibit not once but twice. It was originally planned for the summer of 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to that. It was then back to the drawing board for Shaw, who lives in Ann Arbor.
The exhibition features 74 original works by Van Gogh — including the one that separates the DIA from every other museum in the country, a self- portrait that was the first painting by the master ever to be bought by a public American museum.
That purchase was a bold move, Shaw says, since at the time Van Gogh wasn’t as well known and the public didn’t yet appreciate the style he would come to be known for, with brief brushstrokes and vibrant colors. When he was talked about, he was known for his mental health struggles (the story about him cutting off his own ear did not help things).
“Those stories very early on were very sensationalized: ‘It’s the work of a madman!’ — which is not true,” says Shaw, a Nashville native and doctoral alumna of the University of Chicago. “He had his mental health crises for sure, but there was a lot bound up in his introduction to the United States.”
Since then, of course, Van Gogh has become among the best-known artists in history. That makes securing other works of art, to say the least, difficult.
Shaw — whose official title is the Rebecca A. Boylan and Thomas W. Sidlik curator of European art, 1850-1970 — spent her first year of the Van Gogh project just doing research. Then she and Salort-Pons approached the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. Without its blessing, she says, the exhibition could never happen. They got it — and then Shaw still had plenty of work to do.
The paintings came from museums all over the world — and shipping a priceless painting across an ocean while keeping it safe is no small task.
“Every letter we wrote was like a legal case, like, why your painting is justified and needs to be in the show,” she says. “Oftentimes that went much beyond the letter. It was going to directors. It was going to important curators’ offices, and … you make a case. For every single one.”
After all that, three days before the 2020 show catalog was about to go to press, they learned they’d have to cancel the exhibit.
There was something serendipitous about the timing. Originally, the exhibit would not have been on the 100-year anniversary of the DIA acquiring that first Van Gogh.
With the work finally behind her, Shaw, after allowing the crowd to walk through her exhibit, was finally able to sit back and, well, enjoy the show.
“I was just starting here. It’s any curator’s dream to do a big exhibition. The fact that Salvador was interested in me doing a Van Gogh — it’s once in a lifetime,” she says.
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Making the former president’s playlist was just the tip of the iceberg for this first-generation American.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper
When Tammy Lakkis found out her song “Notice” was included on former President Barack Obama’s playlist of his favorite songs released in 2021, she was still working her restaurant job in Detroit.
The singer, songwriter, and DJ based in Hamtramck was listed among mainstream artists like Lil Nas X, Brandi Carlile, and Lizzo. Unlike the music of those artists — who have major awards, accolades, and commercial radio airplay behind them — Lakkis’ four-track vinyl EP Notice was released by the tiny homegrown label Portage Garage Sounds.
And she had no clue her music had traveled so far and wide thanks to the power of the internet. “Notice” currently has more than a quarter-million streams on Spotify, and the vinyl version of the EP (printed locally by Archer Record Pressing) is currently on its third edition.
“It’s still really weird and surprising and shocking to me,” the sweetly humble Lakkis says, sipping a cocktail at a crowded Bronx Bar in Detroit. “It still makes no sense.”
But it did make sense to everyone else who heard her music. There’s a wonderful playfulness throughout the Notice EP, with her rich voice floating over house tracks and a sensibility for pop music making it feel more complete than some lesser projects with a similar sound.
It’s a beloved project in the local electronic music scene that incorporates the music that has influenced Lakkis since she was a kid.
She found her voice early, singing ever since she can remember and experimenting with more straight-ahead pop covers on an acoustic guitar before she started spinning records around the city.
“I love to write songs, I love to write lyrics and to sing, so I don’t want to abandon it,” Lakkis says. “I want it to be an important part of my process and music forever.”
The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Lakkis grew up across the border in Windsor, Ontario, and Dearborn Heights before moving to Hamtramck, where her home doubles as her recording studio.
She’s a bilingual singer, marrying English and Arabic in her live performances. It’s part of a growing wave of Middle Eastern and North African music finding representation in the electronic music scene.
“I think it has made a lot of people feel very seen,” Lakkis says.
With her music, Lakkis has become a torchbearer of sorts, and it’s a cultural flame she’s happy to carry.
“It’s nice to have an opportunity to put into music this identity and experience, because for a lot of first-generation Americans like me, life is very separate in some ways. Your different worlds don’t always touch,” Lakkis says. “My parents had no idea what techno was, but they’ve been to a few of my sets since.”
When the Obama playlist dropped in 2021, Lakkis’ boss at Rose’s Fine Food and Wine on the east side of Detroit popped open a bottle of Champagne to celebrate. It was a small moment that had a big impact on her career.
Last June, Lakkis was named a Kresge film and music fellow in the music composition and performance category.
She is now a musician and artist full time, using her gigs to support herself financially, which ultimately gives her the time to explore what’s possible for her nascent recording career, including writing and recording a much-anticipated full-length album.
“I’m thinking more about the sustainability of this practice,” Lakkis says, “and how to exist as an artist on a daily level. How to go with the ebbs and flows of creativity. It’s not as easy to say, ‘OK, I’ll be creative at 9 a.m. when I wake up.’”
The world has woken up to Tammy Lakkis and the EP that gained her international attention. And now, more eyes are watching what this insanely talented artist does next.
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In 2022, the veteran sailor served as the historic Bayview Yacht Club’s first female commodore.
By Scott Atkinson
On June 17, 2022, Lynn Kotwicki was looking out at the Atlantic Ocean, staring at a world the rest of us can’t see. What to us would only appear as an endless expanse of water is to Kotwicki an aquatic landscape of bumpy waves and rolling, hilly swells, plains of still waters and currents that run through them like rivers.
Kotwicki was about to set sail for the biennial Newport Bermuda Race — 635 miles out into the Atlantic over the course of two days. She was the only woman on the 15-person crew, sailing and sleeping in alternating four-hour shifts, and also the highest ranking. Gender norms be damned. Kotwicki was “command central,” as she put it just before setting off. When she speaks on a boat, people listen.
That’s part of the reason why she was named commodore — that is, head honcho — of the Bayview Yacht Club for 2022, the first woman in its 108-year history.
It’s also because she’s been on the water her entire life — well, almost. She was 2 days old before she was first on a boat.
She started sailboat racing with her father after her mother died when she was 9, in 1981. Suddenly a single father, her dad thought his racing days were over until a friend suggested their crew be their own kids. She was 13 the first time she raced the Port Huron to Mackinac race, which usually takes three days.
“It was my turn to give back,” she says now of being named the 2022 commodore, a job that is far more than a cool title. During her tenure, she oversaw a $5 million overhaul of the yacht club located across from the easternmost part of Belle Isle. When the club decided to change the clubhouse menu, she had the final word on what everyone could eat. Any issue in the club is her issue. When the weekly Windsor Yacht Club races on Lake St. Clair end, she can’t just kick back and have a beer. She mingles, makes sure everyone (the club has just shy of 1,000 members) is happy.
That’s in addition to her day job as an independent management consultant, working with major organizations including health care and automotive.
Bayview isn’t Detroit’s only yacht club, but aside from being over a century old, what Kotwicki says stands it apart from others is that it’s primarily a racing club. Inside the clubhouse, one wall is dedicated to the dozens of trophies on display, won all over the world by Bayview’s members. She estimates that about half of the membership races outside the state and as many as a third race internationally.
She is among that third. Over the course of the sailing season, she races twice a week locally and travels throughout the year to various spots on the globe to race as well.
“She is a trailblazer,” says Trish Kirkman, her friend and crewmate and treasurer of Bayview. “She has the respect of all the members, male or female. She’s a leader. In the boardroom … watching her interact with everyone, she’s just awesome.”
In late September 2022, Kotwicki was rigging up Hot Ticket, the team boat she races on locally, for the weekly Windsor race. As they secured halyards and discussed the winds, Kirkman told the story of the previous week’s race, when they pulled from behind to win after Kotwicki noticed something no one else saw.
They were back in the Detroit River, on the final stretch, resigned to second place. The wind was coming from behind them — but not for long. In the distance, ahead of them, Kotwicki spotted a flagpole (“It’s always there,” she says), where she noticed the wind changed.
She warned her crew and told them how to prepare. The finish line was 500 yards away.
The other boat didn’t read the wind and “wiped out,” as Kotwicki puts it, tipping almost completely over. Hot Ticket sailed past, taking first.
Kotwicki isn’t one to talk about herself. And so, as the team docked the boat the following week (they took second), Kirkman pipes up instead: “She’s a badass.”
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For nearly 10 years, the Cass Tech grad has created colorful and thought- provoking murals and illustrations celebrated around Detroit, the country — and even the world.
By Rachael Thomas
If you’re heading toward downtown Detroit and pass the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan building on Woodward Avenue, it’s hard to miss a large-scale mural painted across the entire northwest-facing wall. It features the word “VOTE” in shades of yellow, orange, and pink against a blue backdrop, surrounded by illustrated black-and-white flowers and signs saying “No Body Is Illegal” and “People Not Prisons.”
Or if you’ve been to downtown East Lansing in recent months, maybe you got a quick glimpse of a colorful mural of Dr. Robert Green — a Detroit-born former professor and dean at Michigan State University and the first Black man to mount a legal challenge
to redlining in East Lansing — painted high above the entrance of the Division Street Garage.
Maybe you’ve seen a viral digital illustration of George Floyd reposted by Oprah Winfrey on her Instagram page (and featured on a TV segment of Entertainment Tonight), depicting Floyd enveloped in flowers, candles, and doves, with the words “Your Life Still Matters” across his hoodie. That piece is still making waves on the platform nearly two years after it was commissioned by Oprah Daily to commemorate the one-year anniversary of Floyd’s death.
If you look closely at any of these vibrant pieces, you’ll see the name or Instagram handle of the man behind them: Ndubisi Okoye.
Art has been a part of the North Carolina-born, Detroit-raised creative’s life since he was a child; in first grade, he would stay up late making accordion paper people for his friends. As Okoye got older, he would experiment with various mediums, from drawing anime characters seen on Dragon Ball Z and Pokémon to taking graphic design and Advanced Placement art courses at Cass Technical High School.
He would also dabble with poetry and perform in slam groups around Detroit. In the summer of 2014, a year before graduating from the College for Creative Studies with his Bachelor of Fine Arts in advertising design, Okoye launched both of his careers — one as an art director in the advertising field and the other as an independent artist creating murals and illustrations for clients through his eponymous business — and found immediate success in both.
“I want people to take away that I’m Black, I love Jesus, and I created this. … When I do art for myself, [I] make it as Black, as beautiful, as amazing, as exuberant as I want it to be,” the 31-year-old says. He credits his upbringing in church as well as the support of his wife, 4-year- old daughter, and other family members and friends as his motivations. “I came from the hood, I came from impoverishment, and I’ve still made a successful career — out of both of my careers.”
As an art director for various local and national agencies, Okoye created ads for General Motors Co., Chrysler, Beaumont Health, and Puma. Through his own business, Okoye has painted murals featured in and around Detroit for companies, institutions, and events such as Foot Locker, Wayne State University, and Murals in the Market. And whenever the opportunity arises, Okoye hires his longtime friends and fellow artists to assist him on projects.
Okoye’s work has reached audiences from coast to coast — and even overseas. He was commissioned by the Los Angeles Times to do an illustration of U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for an article — and that same illustration was later published in a weekly magazine based in Zürich. Last year, Okoye was one of 11 artists from around the world tapped by Warner Bros. to create illustrations of Tweety Bird to honor the character’s 80th birthday. His eight illustrations will be painted as murals and displayed around the U.S., Mexico, and several other countries. And one of Okoye’s latest wins was illustrating more than 70 drawings for a children’s book released last November titled, Love Your Amazing Self, by Washington, D.C.-based musician and meditation teacher Ofosu Jones-Quartey.
“Coming up through Cass, our wildest imaginations never went to international work,” Okoye says, recalling a recent conversation he had with his friend Nate Thomas. “It just was like, ‘We’re gonna make enough money to survive. We’re gonna make enough money to pay off our student loans, make enough money to live healthy lives.’ And now, it’s just on a whole different level.”
Thomas, a Detroit native who currently resides in Maryland and works as a print and pattern designer for Under Armour, can attest to Okoye’s work and the impact it’s had on him. The two formed a friendship during their senior year at Cass Tech. Last summer, Okoye and Thomas collaborated on a mural titled “We Care, Brooklyn” painted on the Stylin’ Zone barbershop and salon in Baltimore. This was Thomas’ first mural, and he says Okoye is one of the few people who have witnessed him honing his craft.
“This was the biggest area I’ve painted in my artistic journey,” Thomas says, adding that the project reminded him of how much potential he possesses. “Ndubisi’s art has impacted me in so many ways. Visually, I’ve always been in awe of his style and knack for creative expression. Beyond that, his art represents so much for me, whether that’s appreciating one of my brothers being highlighted in the most amazing ways or getting caught in the memories of finding our footing to get to the point of being who we are and constantly becoming.”
For all the success Okoye has amassed in his near-decade-long career, he’s learned that rest is imperative. Overexertion landed him in the hospital last spring, and the summer saw a hand injury from yard work and a (thankfully mild) case of COVID-19 that swept over his entire household.
“I think this year, I’ve taken the most rest from my artistic practice than I have in my entire career combined. But it’s also helped me create some of the most amazing work I’ve ever done,” Okoye says, reflecting on what 2022 has meant for his artistry.
He’s not entirely sure what 2023 has in store for him, but he predicts all the rest he took advantage of last year has prepared him for what’s to come. Whatever he does, it’s safe to say he’ll continue to “Do Something Dope Today,” a phrase he coined to encourage his fellow creatives.
“I feel like I’m at the beginning of the next level of my artistic career just because I’ve been taking rest and just enjoying life.”
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Navigating through the pandemic, Visit Detroit’s CEO and president helped lead a team of partners to secure the lucrative 2024 NFL draft, conventions, increased tourism, and a prestigious ‘Time’ magazine designation.
By Bill Dow
This past year, Claude Molinari, president and CEO of Visit Detroit, celebrated two significant announcements that placed the Motor City in the national spotlight.
In March, it was revealed that Detroit will host the lucrative 2024 National Football League draft broadcast nationally in prime time to millions, and in July, Time magazine selected the city for its list of the 50 greatest places in the world to visit. Reportedly, the NFL draft is expected to generate $200 million in economic benefits to metro Detroit and draw half a million visitors, while the Time designation should further enhance efforts to attract more worldwide visitors and conventions.
“In my professional life, getting the NFL draft and obtaining the Time magazine designation are two of the most exciting things to happen to me because of the impact it will have,” says Molinari, 55, who lives in Northville and maintains an apartment in Detroit with his wife, Kelly.
Upon the retirement of longtime leader Larry Alexander during the middle of the pandemic when dozens of conventions were canceled, in January 2021 — after a nationwide search and among 14 candidates — Molinari was named the 10th president and CEO of the 127-year-old Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau, now branded as Visit Detroit.
As the oldest convention and visitors bureau in the world, the nonprofit’s mission is to “sell the metropolitan Detroit area on a worldwide basis as a destination for leisure and business travel, including conventions, trade shows, corporate meetings, tours, and incentive travel to maximize additional visitors, visitor expenditures, state and local tax revenues, and job opportunities.” More than 700 southeast Michigan businesses are represented in Visit Detroit’s membership.
Molinari, a Long Island native and former college hockey player who obtained a degree in public administration from Point Park University in Pittsburgh, has always welcomed challenges and competition.
In 2011, while he was working at Pittsburgh’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center for ASM Global, the convention center management company offered Molinari the opportunity to move either to Chicago to work at McCormick Place or to Detroit to become the assistant general manager at Cobo Center (now Huntingtom Place), overseeing operations, security, events, and union labor services.
“Chicago was the easier choice because at the time, Cobo Center had a bad reputation and was beset by labor union issues, but I told my wife that in Detroit there was no way to go but up,” Molinari says. “My dad used to say, ‘Find the jobs nobody wants, and you’ll be more indispensable.’ I knew that Cobo was proceeding with a $300 million renovation and Dan Gilbert was beginning to have a positive impact downtown. I wanted to be a part of Detroit’s transformation.”
During his time at Cobo, Molinari enacted new uniform practices and gained peace with the various labor unions, which resulted in additional convention bookings. He also helped land the $33 million, 22-year naming rights agreement with TCF Bank, one of the largest convention naming deals in the country.
“The operating deficit for the center was around $25 million a year before our management company took over, and I’m proud that with our great team, we ran a profit every year that I served as the general manager,” Molinari says.
When Molinari took over the DMCVB in January 2021 following a year that saw “convention business worth $329 million in direct spending canceled” because of the pandemic, one of his first directives to resurrect business was to officially create a DBA by rebranding the organization as Visit Detroit. In addition, his communications team overhauled the bureau’s website, visitdetroit.com.
“We felt it was important to differentiate the brand and change the name because ‘Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau’ is a mouthful. ‘Visit Detroit’ tells who we are and what we do,” Molinari says. “I took some heat from some suburban partners because they thought we were abandoning them, but that’s not true because our mission covers all of metro Detroit.”
At the organization’s 2022 annual meeting in February, Molinari announced that nearly 100 new meetings and sporting events in the region had been scheduled before unveiling an aggressive national marketing campaign called “Detroit Wins.”
Ever modest, he quickly acknowledges that all of this is not just his success. Molinari praises Visit Detroit’s senior communications director, Chris Moyer, for inundating Time magazine with positive stories about metro Detroit, which played a significant role in the city being one of only five in the U.S. to land on the prestigious “World’s Greatest Places of 2022” list.
As for landing the 2024 NFL draft, Molinari credits a great team effort from a number of stakeholders.
“Visit Detroit had been a bridesmaid twice before, and we were desperate to get it,” Molinari says. “They say success has a thousand fathers, and in this case, the effort by everyone involved was incredible. Dave Beachnau, our senior vice president of sales, who is also in charge of our Detroit Sports Commission [a part of Visit Detroit], and his deputy director, Marty Dobek, really quarterbacked the process. It helped tremendously when Dan Gilbert reminded the NFL in no uncertain terms that his company and Ford Motor were two of the three largest NFL media sponsors. Rod Wood and Sheila Ford Hamp of the Lions of course also played an integral role, and so did many others.”
The victories continue to mount.
Last November, the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee announced that in 2027, Ford Field will once again host the Final Four, heralding the return to Detroit for the first time since 2009. That same month, Detroit was named the 10th best place to travel in the world in 2023 by Travel Lemming, an online travel guide read by more than 6 million travelers.
When Detroit landed the 2023 USA Boxing Qualifier (also in November), a competing Midwestern city found out it had lost the bid. Molinari was told that the reaction was, “Please don’t say it was Detroit. They’re killing us. We’ve lost so much business to them.” Golden Gloves boxing soon followed; in 2024, Detroit will host the its national championship.
This past summer, Visit Detroit hosted 1,800 attendees with Connect Marketplace, the premier organization for convention and meeting planners. The great majority of them had never been to metro Detroit.
“The universal reaction was, ‘Oh my goodness, I had no idea that this region is so awesome,’” Molinari says.
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The activist, community organizer, and mother talks family, the future, and her burning passion for her city.
By Lauren Wethington
To say Chantel Watkins is busy might be the understatement of the century. When we meet for an interview in late October 2022, the 32-year-old Detroit resident and mother of two is laser-focused on the upcoming November election. As a precinct delegate, her priority is getting her community registered to vote, along with making sure their voices are heard by their elected officials. But that’s far from the only thing on Watkins’ plate.
An activist with 10 years of experience fighting for the rights of Detroit’s most marginalized residents — including women, people of color, poor people, and LGBTQ individuals — Watkins is also a United State of Women ambassador and a fellow with abortion-rights political action committee Emily’s List. Her impressive CV boasts past roles as a digital organizer with the Human Rights Campaign, a rapid response organizer with Planned Parenthood, and a lead organizer for Michigan One Fair Wage.
“I’m most passionate about making sure that Detroiters have a voice and a say in what’s going on,” Watkins says. “A lot of times when I go into meetings, I might be the only Black person in there. Sometimes I’m the only woman; sometimes I’m the only Black woman. So it’s my main goal to not only be in those rooms but to bring other people into them as well.”
Born into a family of community organizers, Watkins’ life of service started at a young age. She recounts weekends spent piling into her grandmother’s Ford Taurus with her siblings and driving to a local nursing home, where the family performed church hymns, cleaned up community spaces, and handed out meals to residents.
“I loved it,” Watkins recalls. “I really got to see firsthand what mutual aid looks like and what community looks like. As I grew up, I learned that you can make long-term changes within your community through working in policy and government.”
Creating those long-term policy changes is now Watkins’ mission. She spends her days phone banking for progressive candidates, collecting petition signatures, organizing events, and creating online content for the many campaigns on which she works. As one of 90 national ambassadors with United State of Women, she networks with progressive women from around the country to address intersectional gender equity issues in her community.
“People talk about Renaissance men — Chantel is a Renaissance woman,” says Nicole Denson, a fellow Detroit-based organizer who has collaborated with Watkins on numerous causes, including the Detroit Slutwalk and Michigan One Fair Wage. “She can do poetry, she can get up and protest, she can write press releases, she can lead marches, and she can organize and help communicate with legislation.”
But Watkins says it’s listening to the concerns of the people within her community — people who often feel like politicians at the state and national levels aren’t paying attention — that fuels her passion.
“I get to take those neighborhood and community concerns and talk to people within the party,’’ Watkins says. “When people are like, ‘My basement’s flooded, and nobody’s helping me,’ I get to take that to the party and be like, ‘Hey, you’re their state rep. This is what you should be working on.’”
In an era when so much can change at the drop of a hat (or at the drop of a Supreme Court justice’s gavel), Watkins says the small victories are more important than ever. She was overjoyed when the ballot initiative she collected signatures for — Proposal 3, which would amend Michigan’s state constitution in order to protect access to abortion and reproductive care — made it to the official 2022 election ballot and was approved by voters on Election Day. And she had to wipe tears from her eyes when she realized her oldest child, 11-year-old Davante, was beginning to notice the impact of his own mother’s work.
“One day, we were driving past White Castle, and a sign said ‘Now hiring — $15 an hour.’ And he was like, ‘Look, Mom, you did it,’” Watkins says. “I just want my kids to know, if there’s something you don’t like, work to change it. But I hope they have less to change.”
Watkins credits her children with reminding her to (occasionally) slow down and be present in the moment. Without them, she says, mental and emotional burnout could get in the way of her goals. They’re big goals, by the way: “I’m going to be the mayor of Detroit before I’m 50,” she says without an ounce of hesitation. It’s hard not to believe her.
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This story is from the January 2023 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition.