It's been a big year for Detroit's jazz scene, and none know it more than the Carr Center. The arts center celebrated 30 years recently, and is closing the landmark season with a world premiere of a multimedia installation in its Midtown space.
"New Standards, Part 1 of Shifting the Narrative: Jazz and Gender Justice
" features artwork exploring themes of jazz and gender from acclaimed visual artists, and is a curation from Grammy award-winning composer, drummer, and educator Terri Lyne Carrington. In the installation, lead artistic director Carrington examines the intersection of history, gender, race, and innovation.
Photo courtesy of the Carr Center.
The first part of "New Standards" consisted of live performances at various Midtown locations, Carrington's recently published book, "New Standards: 101 Lead Sheets by Women Composers", public programming, an educational curriculum, and audio and visual artwork highlighting the contributions of women jazz composers.
Supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, there are three additional components to the installation: "Invisible Labor", "The Female and Non-binary Gaze", and "Geri Allen and Mary Lou Williams conversations".
As part of the installation, the center also presented a free 13-concert jazz crawl featuring performances by internationally revered female jazz musicians such as Camille Thurman, Carmen Lundy, Tia Fuller, and Susie Ibarra. The concert crawl took place in popular venues in Midtown.
The project is part of the larger enterprise called the Jazz Without Patriarchy project, an ongoing series of initiatives that seek to engage artists, scholars, journalists, educational institutions, funders, presenters, and the public with imagining and working toward a cultural transformation in jazz that allows for more equitable gender representation.
The Carr Center has a unique history in Detroit, fulfilling a critical need for elevating Black artistic excellence in visual arts, dance, arts education, and jazz.
"Black organizations often don't get credit for their strategic evolutions. They get credit for magical evolutions. And this organization has strategically evolved over the years in many cases in front of whatever the trend is," says Oliver Ragsdale Jr., president, and Chief Executive Officer of the Carr Center.
The center moved their visual arts gallery into The Park Shelton in October 2019, and just last month opened the Carr Center Performance Studio, an intimate, 2500-square-foot space that will eventually become the main hub for the organization's performances, rehearsals, film screenings, and more.
Ragsdale speaks of the progress of the Carr Center from its beginnings as an arts collaborative to its evolution as a community-driven institution focusing on educational programming and collaborations with larger institutions.
In its 30-year history, the center has teamed with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to commission 10 Detroit-based visual artists to create "Rock My Soul" and chronicle the Black legacy of rock and roll, produced "Black Nativity" with Tony Award-winning choreographer and director George Faison, and launched "Detroit Performs Live from the Carr Center", a global live stream series of concerts, exhibitions, artist talks, and classes, through a partnership with Detroit Public Television.
The Carr Center educational programming also consists of an annual young artist competition, free dance and music classes for metro Detroit students, and their annual Summer Dance Intensive, presented in partnership with The Debbie Allen Dance Academy (DADA). They also provide support and space for resident artists, community-based artists, and arts organizations.
Their transition from a placemaking-focused organization to one that is centered around artistic programming was due to the hiring of their first artistic director, Geri Allen. Allen was a world-renowned, Detroit-born jazz pianist, composer, and educator whose vision was to expand and nationalize the Carr Center.
Under Allen's leadership, the Gathering Orchestra, a two-year fellowship program comprising a cross-generation of jazz musicians, was developed. Fellows rehearse and perform with their mentors on standards, large ensemble compositions, and original compositions.
Allen passed away in June 2017. Shortly afterward, Grammy and Tony award-winning jazz vocalist and actress Dee Dee Bridgewater and Carrington (also a longtime musical collaborator with Allen,) became co-artistic directors, continuing Allen’s vision. In 2019, Carrington took on the role of lead artistic director.
"It's definitely been my honor to take over and try to make Geri proud, " says Carrington. "But thinking about Detroit's rich musical legacy, I really understand the importance of that, how it was important to Geri, and important to the Carr Center and the community in Detroit in general. And so that's why I am thinking more about audience building in this role."
Photo courtesy of the Carr Center.
Carrington says the latest exhibit aims to highlight the other components of the multimedia installation in the coming year.
In terms of future plans for the Carr Center, Ragsdale says they will continue to grow and develop in the digital realm, maintain a certain level of artistic excellence, and broaden their presentations to represent a wider range of the diaspora. They will also be reinstituting the Artist Hub program, which will create space for artists to do their work and give them a home in midtown.
"The core value of the Carr Center is it's multidisciplinary in nature," says Ragsdale. "When the organization started, there were five organizations representing five different disciplines and that has maintained itself throughout the 30 years…the breath of African-American culture is so broad and so deep that it's necessary. And there aren't a lot of organizations like us."
The New Standards multimedia installation is running now through November 27 and is located inside the Park Shelton building, inside the Carr Center Performance Studio. Visitor Hours are: Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday Noon – 5pm, Friday Noon – 8pm.