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Working to Increase Sustainability of Detroit Artists By Supporting People, Equipment, and Knowledge

Knight Foundation $23 Million Investment in the Digital Future of the Arts


The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has committed nearly $110 million to the arts in Detroit since 2005 and recently announced a new $23 million investment in the digital future of the arts in Detroit.

The investment includes multi-year grants to ten Detroit arts organizations as well as three fellowship, commissioning, and technical capacity-building programs.

The impetus behind tech integration is an interesting one. According to Koven, in 2005, Alberto Ibargüen joined Knight as president. As a former newspaper publisher, he saw firsthand how newspapers’ failure to integrate technology into their operations could lead to dire consequences. He coupled this insight with an understanding that the arts are core to informed and engaged communities and it was inevitable that Knight would focus its arts investments on technology.

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One of the 2023 grantees is artist collective BULK Space, which is looking to create a BULK Media Lab with the funds. Says Koven Smith, Senior Director of Arts for the Knight Foundation, “BULK Space provides a sanctuary for artists and curators to meaningfully engage with their communities and address social inadequacies through experimental practices and non-traditional mediums. BULK Space’s initiative for the grant is a great example of the kind of community-led work providing solutions and access to artists and creatives; their mobile media hub will provide hands-on mentorship, digital skill-building workshops, a technology lending library, and more.”

Detroitisit spoke to BULK Space executive director Jessica Allie to find out more about the vision and potential impact BULK Space and the BULK Media Lab intends to have on Detroit.

DII: What is BULK Space?

Allie: BULK Space is an artist-collective dedicated to uplifting the works of marginalized creatives in taking up physical and digital space. We understand first-hand the needs of marginalized artists and are committed to building platforms for success via community conversation, exhibitions, and performances in which we identify and develop resources for all of our participants.

DII: What is the impetus behind it?

Allie: BULK Space was founded on the premise that by offering underrepresented artists space and resources, collectively, we can shift the landscape of equity in the arts. We humbly began this work by providing affordable studio space to artists in tandem with offering exhibition space to local organizations and community groups. Since our 2017 founding, BULK Space has grown exponentially, offering artists and local communicates in Detroit, Highland Park, and Hamtramck the following:

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  • Presentation of over 50 public programs that center on supporting artists’ professional development, including writing, portfolio, and grants-based workshops. From these programs, artists have had opportunities for artist exchanges from Detroit to Chicago, Philadelphia, Berlin, and Copenhagen.
  • Hands-on skill-sharing programming for local participants where artists could share elements of their practices that are inclusive of disrupting traditional modes of making.
  • Mini Grant awards offer two local artists a month an unrestricted gift of $1000 supporting 24 artists in 2022.
  • An Artist Residency program that invites artists to a live/work space for up to 3 months at a time; thus far, 15 artists have participated.
  • Launch a publication initiative that has presented the works of marginalized artists across the nation. These BULK-published works have been subsequently presented at Printed Matter’s New York City Art Book Fair and Detroit Art Book Fair and were accepted into New Art Dealers Alliance Book Fair.

DII: You will use the funds from the Knight Foundation to create the BULK Media Lab Please elaborate on what the BULK Media Lab is.

Allie: Through our previous work, BULK Space has witnessed firsthand the gap in resources and education in art and technology. As a response and with the support of the James L. Knight Foundation, we have launched BULK Media Lab. Opportunities for learning and critical discourse will be provided via hands-on mentorship, digital skill-building workshops, and a technology lending library providing much-needed resources to artists and community members. Programs to date range from teaching practical skills (designing a resume, portfolio, etc) to more experimental and innovative workshops, such as creating video shorts. We aim to create a fundamental understanding of art+technology while exploring new and innovative ways of making. Creatives will have access to learn how to operate lighting, sound, and audio equipment.

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DII: Why Detroit’s North end?

At BULK Space, we fully understand that our neighbors are not only marginalized, but majority Black. We seek to provide opportunities that are engaging and meet identified needs, such as access to skill-building and professional development. As an organization that is collaboratively run, BULK Media Lab works in conjunction with other community-based organizations such as Oakland Avenue Farms, Bryce Detroit, People in Education, and Brilliant Detroit. It is imperative for the success of our organization to deeply root ourselves in the needs of our community while providing high-quality access to tools and resources individuals might only have access to if they are in school.

Allie: What do you hope to accomplish with the Media Lab?

BULK Space seeks to empower both creatives and non-creatives with the tools and knowledge to succeed while exploring their best creative selves. We anticipate BULK Media Lab to have a lifetime impact by advancing technology-based community literacy. Providing these resources will bring more access to financial growth via job opportunities and self-esteem building, which is vital to establishing a career in any field.

Additionally, long-term quality of life will be seen through personalized skill-building opportunities. Experimentation in one domain leads to a more robust understanding of the world and can lead to innovation in other areas of expertise.

Since BULK Media Lab gives access to equipment that artists don’t have anywhere else in this city, we have become a hub for innovation and will support artists’ growth in their practice. In time Media Lab members, artists, and community members will have the opportunity to become a mentor to young art and tech creatives. This model of sharing knowledge will genuinely have a long-term impact that will strengthen not only Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park but communities across the region.

DII: How is the work you are doing critical to the city of Detroit? What is the intended impact on the city?

Allie: BULK Space began as a labor of love, a response to the call to level the field and foster the creativity of Black, Indigenous, People of Color, Trans, GNC, LGBQII, Women, Veterans, Working class, and Immigrant experience. As we have grown, we have been a part of providing resources for a vibrant community of emerging artists here in Detroit. As we were founded on a labor of love, we rise to the occasion of what Detroit-based artists need. We hope to continue to be an open resource for folks making work in Detroit. We hope that by impacting artist’s careers and communities, we will be able to continue to support the thriving artistic landscape of our beautiful city.

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DII: What is the future for BULK? The vision and end game?

Allie: This is an interesting question as our vision continues to evolve based on the needs of artists in Detroit. Right now our main focus is to build out the BULK Media lab. Once we open and begin programming, anything from there is possible.



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