Paint Meets Purpose
Art is all around us; sometimes we just need to find a creative resource to help magnify it. Artist and entrepreneur Brandon Christopher goes a step further to suggest that “in each of us, [there is] an artist.” Figuratively speaking, Brandon rested with a crutch in one hand and a paint brush in the other as he settled in for our interview. He was nursing a leg injury in the middle of painting his studio space. He’s the founder of CANVASxDetroit (read “Canvas Detroit”), a public arts engagement studio in Detroit, Michigan- USA. The studio provides an artistic platform for the local community in which to create. I sat down with Brandon Christopher as he took a break from renovating CANVASxDetroit to learn more.
In 2013, the founder traded in his career as a lobbyist in the nation’s capitol to create CANVASxDetroit. His goal was to impact and enrich the communities he served creatively. After a recommendation from a friend and a warm encounter with the then mayor of Detroit, the conceptualization of making Detroit a new home began to manifest. “I wanted to empower people creatively,” says Brandon. Then, he sharpened his business plan through participation in a series of small business development trainings such as Challenge Detroit, D Hive and Revolve Detroit. In the end, CANVASxDetroit had the brick and mortar space, marketing and support needed for success. These programs were made available to feed Detroit’s present and incoming creative and entrepreneurial community.
CANVASxDetroit represents the intersection of art and the city of Detroit, the studio is “a canvas connecting… intersecting with the city in all its fullness, not only in the physical sense but in a spiritual sense too,” says the founder in reference to the studio’s name. Further, he cites Detroit as a city filled with inspiration- from its history as the heart of America’s automotive industry, to the present day innovation found in the ways of life of its Black communities.
With programming spanning from work with children to teens and young professionals, “we’re teaching people that art is for everybody,” says Christopher. Unsuspecting guests consistently find themselves awed by their level of ability to create. The studio provides several different services for patrons. Personalized art classes occur when CANVASxDetroit customers discuss what it is they would like to create. The founder reflects on a previous class held for women wishing to paint ‘a girl in African dress,’ “[w]e like to consult with our customer… because you get a better result when the individual has direct input into what they’re creating.” Open art studios are another feature of CANVASxDetroit. This feature allows customers to come in and purchase creative materials to then use freely in the studio. Using methodologies based on research established in partnership with local leadership institutes, the studio also offers on and offsite corporate and non-profit art workshops- “[w]e take an arts based approach to teaching team building and leadership development.” Outside of the aforementioned, CANVASxDetroit also hosts other public community events related to music appreciation and street art.
BOUNDLESS, the founder’s favorite, is a floating street art installation program which simulates the creation of graffiti. Using industrial grade transparent wrap and aerosol spray paint, participants of all ages are allowed to create street art. BOUNDLESS serves as signature engagement program of CANVASxDetroit because they believe that “street art is a valuable part of the contemporary art canon,” as it is “a valuable mechanism to send messages to the community.” Street art serves as a presenter of powerful imagery which can timelessly serve as a sounding board to elicit varied emotional and cultural response based on the viewer. For this reason and others, CANVASxDetroit continues the BOUNDLESS program with hopes that it aids in the removal of the criminality associated with street art. “Artists risk their freedom,” to express themselves- the founder hopes to soon work with corporations and small businesses to establish contracted work opportunities through partnerships for street artists.
Moving forward, CANVASxDetroit is exploring the intersections of art and the environment. They believe that increased art exposure and environmental awareness can in turn reduce public health issues exacerbated by pollution. The studio is working on crafting programming which turns waste materials into art materials to launch by Summer 2016’s end.
CANVASxDetroit hopes to continue to be a connector of people and art because, “[art engagement] has no negatives,” says the founder. When asked of an ideal partnership, Brandon named Sean Anderson (American music artist Big Sean) as a first choice. “The Sean Anderson Foundation has displayed creative and philanthropic talents,” that CANVASxDetroit recognizes as inspiring. Specifically, CANVASxDetroit would love to partner up to set a world record for the “largest publicly made street art ever, doing something that sets the precedent for something… different.”
Continued inspiration for CANVASxDetroit’s founder is found in the fact that many poorer communities do not have sufficient funding for arts programs and access. This studio and other cultural expression spaces assist in combating the erasure of Black communities in the Detroit area. Lastly, CANVASxDetroit serves as a creativity magnet for adults as life’s responsibilities pull us further away from seeing the art around us and “in each of us…”
Felicia Anderson is an International Immersion Enthusiast, Educator, Visual Artist, Writer and Outreach Coordinator residing in Cincinnati, Ohio. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org