The Detroit Artists' Workshop

The Detroit Artist's Workshop is not that well known, but it was one of the central artistic phenomena in the city during the final third of the 20th century. The Workshop was founded by Wayne State art students and Cass Corridor artists and musicians in November 1964, on the basis of a Manifesto written by John Sinclair (later the Chairman of the White Panther Party and manager of MC-5, among other things; clearly, he deserves a section of his own). In Sinclair's words,

what we want is a place for artists - musicians, painters, poets, writers, film-makers - who are committed to their art and to the concept of community involvement to meet and work with one another in an open, warm, loving, supportive environment (- what they don't get in the "real" world) - a place for people to come together as equals in a community venture the success of which depends solely upon those involved with it. To this end we have acquired a "studio" workshop which will be maintained (rent, electricity, heat) by the artists themselves...

As to the motivations of the founders, Sinclair put it bluntly: "Detroit has really been nowhere, as the saying goes; one half-way decent theater, one museum, a decaying jazz scene, no community of poets, painters, writers, anything." The Workshop provided the artistic community in the area with exhibit space, and enabled the the artists to give "self-education" courses on jazz, film and poetry, and eventually developed a publishing operation for printing books from the writings of Workshop participants, along with pamphlets and newspapers.

The original Workshop was started in a storefront on the northeast corner of Warren and the Lodge Service Drive. Surprisingly enough for what was basically an anarchist arts commune, the Workshop outlived the burning down of the original building, and survived in various forms until the end of the decade. In it's initial form, the Workshop drew poets, artists and musicians from around the country. By 1967, though, the Workshop had transmogrified into the Trans-Love Tribe of Detroit (which produced concerts, light shows and books as a means to inspire revolutionary spirits in the young), and by 1970 it had become the core of the White Panther Party.


Robin Eichele and John Sinclair provided an overview of the activities of the Workshop in a 1965 issue of New University Thought, a Wayne State publication helmed by the Workshop's main University backer, the late legend Otto Feinstein. Tribes of the Cass Corridor has a lengthy list of participants in the Workshop. A reunion was held in November 2004 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Workshop, and the Metro Times published a lengthy article which included interviews with many of the central players in the Workshop. Finally, Cary Loren has an extensive retrospective of the Workshop in the November 2004 issue of The Detroiter.


Categories: Arts | Late 20th Century | Politics