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Parks in Partnership Highlight: Eco- Art and Advocacy with Sidewalk Detroit

June 19, 2024

By Erin Parker, Interpretive Services Supervisor

One of the best parts of living in southeast Michigan is the number and variety of parks available to residents and visitors. Your Huron-Clinton Metroparks span 25,000 acres and five counties, but we also have access to state parks, county parks, city and municipal parks. This wide variety of green spaces offer opportunities for residents to engage with the outdoors and outdoor recreation in many different ways. And this diversity of parks also lends itself to collaborative projects and partnerships across park system boundaries.

Sidewalk Detroit

One of the groups we’ve been excited to work with over the last few years is Sidewalk Detroit, a nonprofit launched in 2013. The mission of Sidewalk Detroit is: ”… to advance the public life and strong social infrastructure through the lens of arts, culture, collaborative design, and deep engagement with residents.”

In 2016, Sidewalk Detroit began the process of re-activating and re-imagining Eliza Howell Park in the Brightmoor Neighborhood on Detroit’s northwest side. Bounded by the Rouge River, the 250-acre park has almost 2 miles of hiking trails, picnic shelters, athletic fields, and now, thanks to the deep community-building work of Sidewalk Detroit, plans for updated signage and trail improvements. Metroparks staff were able to participate in supporting community-input sessions and the development of some draft interpretive signage for the trail system.

Community-based art is another facet of Sidewalk Detroit’s work in Eliza Howell and other Detroit parks.

In 2021, Sidewalk Detroit launched their Eco-Artist Residency with artist Patrick Dougherty. Dougherty, along with more than 150 volunteers and artists, created “Stickwork”- a large, woven installation near one of the entrances to Eliza Howell Park’s trail system. Designed of entirely natural materials, Stickwork still stands today, engaging park visitors of all ages.

In 2023, Sidewalk Detroit’s Artist-in-Residency program worked with New York based artist Jordan Webber and the Canfield Consortium, where installation “NewForest, Ancient Thrones” was unveiled in May 2024. This sculpture, located in East Canfield Art Park, combines crown imagery from African Queens Ranavalona and Idia with real-time air quality monitoring that allows residents and visitors to explore air quality, social justice, and art.

In 2024, Sidewalk Detroit’s Eliza Howell Park Eco-Artist Residency is hosting artist Halima Cassells. Starting with community-based river clean ups in the park, the artist engaged the community with hands-on workshops to develop a new installation for the park, to be unveiled on June 22.

According to August Morrison, one of Sidewalk Detroit’s Program Directors:

“The Eliza Howell Park Eco-Artist Residency reflects Sidewalk Detroit’s dedication to environmental justice, stewardship, and addressing our climate crises. In collaboration with award-winning artist Halima Cassells and the environmental justice organization, Ecology Center, we are fulfilling our mission by creating a new upcycled art installation. Community members contributed to this initiative during the river cleanup on April 20, and have been attending workshops to learn about the impact of microplastics. They are also assisting Halima with the installation. A beautiful new archway will guide parkgoers along the trail to the river. We hope this will raise awareness about the importance of keeping our parks clean and the dangers of plastics in our waterways.”

To join in the unveiling of the new installation, an open celebration and artist talk with Halima Cassells is scheduled from 5-7 p.m. at Eliza Howell Park on Saturday, June 22. The park can be located at 23751 Fenkell Ave, Detroit.

For more about Sidewalk Detroit and the many ways they engage with the community:

Sidewalk Detroit

Eco-Artist-in-Residence Projects

View a panel discussion “Sculpting Sustainability” that took place in April, 2024: Sculpting Sustainability

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