Gina Reichert is an artist of the community. A longtime resident of Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood, located just off the Davison Freeway and straddling the Detroit and Hamtramck borders, Reichert has been involved in cultivating creative and sustainable art solutions in the city. This includes a series of projects such as the Power House, an off-the-grid 1920s bungalow refurbished for contemporary art making; Ride It Sculpture Park, a skate-able public landscape; Sound House, an experimental sound studio; and Play House, a performance and event space. The projects span all across the compact neighborhood, creating a lattice of art installations and dynamic programming.
With a background in architecture, community organizing, and design, Reichert is the co-director, along with husband Mitch Cope, of Power House Productions (PHP), an artist-run neighborhood-based nonprofit which works to integrate arts and culture into the neighborhood, creating public spaces for the exchange of diverse ideas and experiences.
To bring our Women’s History Month spotlight series to an end, Hour Detroit talked to Reichert about her Detroit neighborhood, how art and culture can stabilize space, and why women artists matter.
Hour Detroit: Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood has been described as dynamic and diverse. As a longtime resident, what makes this community special?
Reichert: I love [the] neighborhood, and it’s mostly because of the people. So many interesting and amazing people live here and yes, from anywhere and everywhere, with different stories and histories to tell. Summertime is kind of the best when windows are open and music plays from passing cars, gardens are in full growth, and neighbors walk through the alleys to visit from house to house, kids are out playing, and you never know what you’re going to see. It’s not all always positive, there are flaws, and for me that makes it more relaxed and alive and open to possibilities. It’s a culturally full and socially rich place to live day to day.
Can you talk to me about the work Powerhouse Productions is doing right now?
Right now, we are focused on putting the finishing touches on Ride It Sculpture Park, an outdoor skate park we’ve been building along the Davison Expressway since 2012. Last fall, the final concrete work was poured thanks to Evergreen Skateparks and we began installing the first in a series of commissioned artworks by Nari Ward. Once the ground thaws this spring, we’ll start moving dirt again and then landscaping goes in, including rain gardens, native plants, BBQ grills, and wooden benches made from a tree that had been on site. This is the big project, as well as ongoing programming at Sound House, Squash House, Jar House, and Play House.
Not everything we do is open to the public at large, some of it is limited to neighborhood residents and the artists we work with, but coming up on April 21, there is a Bangla School of Music concert at Play House. We co-host these events a few times each year and this time Director Akram Hossain has invited Shom Chatterjee and Dr. Rajeeb Chakraborty to perform alongside the music school students. These programs are always beautiful and festive events.
What does it mean to stabilize a neighborhood with art and culture? What does this look like in practice?
It means that art and culture are driving progress rather than development dollars and bottom-line thinking. There is definitely room for growth here in the Davison-Banglatown area of the city, but residents don’t need to be priced out of the area in order for quality of life to improve for everyone. I don’t know that we can speak to universal values that the neighborhood holds, the neighborhood is not homogenous in any way, but I do think that the character of the neighborhood is strong. And the things that I’ve witnessed as assets, having lived here since 2005, cannot always be monetized or quantified and so are often overlooked when it comes to ideas of planning and development. Things like color and pattern, food and gardening, playfulness and conversation, freedom to express oneself and your ideas. These qualities often get lost when efforts to “improve” an area based on capital investments arrive on the scene.
Detroit has a number of women artists, activists, and entrepreneurs who are actively shaping the city. Why do you think it’s important that women artists and designers, like yourself, be a part of Detroit’s future?
Women ask questions, listen, and find strength in sharing power. For Detroit to stay true to its unique way of being – a city of residents who have flourished culturally and spiritually through decades of economic disinvestment, real estate redlining practices and white flight – these qualities are key. I think women should be leading these conversations because they could bring more people to the table, women like Jenny Lee of Allied Media Project who works to both widen and deepen the conversation, Adrienne Maree Brown and her Emergent Strategy brilliance, Liza Bielby of The Hinterlands who always thinks beyond her own practice and place when creating new works, Councilwoman Raquel Castañeda-López whose principles of equity and inclusion underlie every decision she makes, and young artists like Christy Bieber who advances Anishinaabe culture and knowledge through contemporary media, music and design.
Do you see yourself paving a path for future women artists, designers, community organizers and/or architects? If so, what are your tips for those interested in the work that you do?
I don’t think of myself this way or I’d never get anything done… fear of screwing up would take over and I’d be afraid to make a move! But a few years ago, after a lecture, writer Anne Gadwa Nicodemus asked me if I could name any other women who do this work and I drew a blank. Which is disheartening. I think, hope, that’s changed in the past few years including my knowledge of the field and what’s going on in other places nationally. But it has always been difficult to find more than a handful of role models in architecture, especially those who do get their hands dirty doing design-build work. Unfortunately, just by being female in the field of architecture and construction you end up dealing with discrimination, and I’m not one to stand idly by in silence. My advice would be don’t take no for an answer or let other people’s roadblocks discourage you. It’s going to happen, again and again. Take a deep breath, find an ally or an accomplice, and get back to it.
If you could write a spotlight on a woman you admire, who would that be and why?
Carrie Mae Weems is an artist I admire, both her work and her personal strength and clarity of vision. I had the pleasure of meeting her a few years ago and we had a brief but amazing discussion about working as a woman in the art world. I’d love to have a longer conversation about her experience and perspective.
To learn more about Power House Productions, visit powerhouseproductions.org.