Art in the Roots, #6: Captains and Pilots

I don’t want to get explicitly political in these blog posts, but it’s impossible to avoid it altogether. Everything is political, and if you think it isn’t, then whatever environment you’re in is politically constructed to benefit you, rendering its politics invisible. But they’re there. A friend once said, “Not everything is politics! What about water or air?” and I almost spit out my drink rushing to say, “Ask my friends in Flint about their nonpolitical water.” 

We aim for objectivity in schools, but the populace often insists on politicizing them, like we’re seeing nationwide right now with groups pushing book bans in school libraries and curricula. These bans (and attempted bans) are about many things, I suppose, but at the heart is a refusal to acknowledge otherness, a refusal to accept that there are multiple ways to be and to be good, to be a person and to experience life. The US is a nation with an unfortunately deep history of trying to erase otherness. 

Art helps counteract that because it helps us see life from other perspectives. Literature is one of the best ways to do that: When we watch a movie, we may enjoy the story and get sucked into the narrative, but when we read, we’re more likely to feel the experience ourselves, as if it’s happening to us. 

These bans … are about many things, I suppose, but at the heart is a refusal to acknowledge otherness

So today I want to give a shout out to a poet friend of mine. Matthew E. Henry is an outstanding writer from Massachusetts, and his new book, the Colored page, should be required reading. (He signs his work “MEH,” so I’ll refer to him as such from here on out. Also, I was lucky enough to get a preview of his book to blurb it, but rest assured, blurbing is uncompensated. Heck, poetry itself is usually uncompensated….)

MEH has found himself the other throughout his academic life. He was often the only Black student in a classroom, and now he finds himself often the only Black teacher on staff. When he’s not the only person of color around, he’s one of few, he’s told me. 

His poetry delves into that, and in so doing, invites the white reader to experience that sense of otherness. MEH’s book focuses on the classroom experience from both sides: as student and as teacher. We have all gone to school, so his book allows an accessible entry point for all readers, but especially white readers, who may not be “the other” in many situations, to get a sense of how it feels to be tokenized, pushed aside, or outright oppressed. 

One reason his poetry is so successful at expanding the reader’s point of view is that he doesn’t focus on only the obvious racisms of daily life. I love his poem “an open letter to my well-intentioned white educators: past, present, and future” for the way it subverts the assumption many white teachers make that Black students need saving and that white art is the road to that salvation. Read the whole poem at that link, but I’d like to draw attention to the line, “why I later asked if you knew Sojourner Truth, Lucile Clifton, Octavia Butler.” In a climate where, usually white, groups push book bans, MEH’s poem points out that our curriculum is already painfully whitewashed. His schooling included only “Crispus Attucks, George Washington Carver, and the Rev. Dr. King,” and he had to ask for prominent Black writers. Students rarely if ever have to ask where the Hawthorne or Fitzgerald is, you know? 

MEH continues, “it’s why my recital piece was ‘Sir Duke’ instead of Chopin,” which forces the reader to confront the assumption that European classical music is the pinnacle of art. As Nina Simone said, “Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music.” This also brings to mind one of my favorite pieces at the Detroit Institute of Arts: Kehinde Wiley’s Officer of the Hussars. Wiley is a preeminent contemporary painter inviting the audience to make similar moves, to look at historically white art with Black people in a place of pride and prominence. It’s wonderful work, and it can even be jarring for a white audience unused to considering “the baggy pants” in MEH’s poem and Wiley’s painting as an acceptable, let alone laudable, form of presentation. 

When I asked MEH his thoughts about the banning attempts, he reminded me “how the books that are often chosen to show ‘diversity’ are almost always about overcoming the struggle of being Black.” The books being questioned are usually the ones that address otherness in the first place, a topic MEH addresses in his poem “Revisionist History.” Banning attempts rarely insist we remove Great Expectations or Jane Eyre; rather, they target stories that share the struggles of being Black, LGBTQ+, Latinx, Jewish, and more. As MEH puts it at the end of that poem, “They need to see Us– / We need to see Us–on different ships, / in different positions: captains and pilots / instead of cargo.”  

It’s 2022, and you’d think we should know better by now than to ban books that allow our children (and us)  to read widely, to experience lives that either they haven’t lived themselves or to see the lives they are living reflected on the page. This is just a rambling blog post, but I hope it encourages us to remember that art makes us bigger and better, and that only the small-minded fear it and try to shut it down. 

Art in the Roots, #5: Read Books! Then Make New Shows.

Welcome back to Art in the Roots. I apologize for the extended absence–what I intended to be a short summer break got a bit longer than planned. I suppose if we can’t rush good art, I shouldn’t rush my mediocre ruminations on art either, right? RIGHT?! 

Anyway, I learned to read with comics and have been a lifelong comics reader, so I was thrilled to hear they are making a TV series of the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. It’s a tremendous book about a child of Chinese immigrants coming of age in contemporary America. 

Then, a moment later, I paused. WHY was I thrilled they were making a phenomenal book into a Disney+ series? The book is incredible on its own. There is no way it could be improved upon, and changing its medium may only detract from the excellent storytelling. Yang’s cartooning is masterful, and the story’s narrative structure is unique, taking full advantage of the graphic novel format’s abilities. Without giving away too much–because I hope you seek out the book, and our wonderful local library has copies–Yang threads the protagonist’s realistic life with mythical fantasy sequences and along the way makes thoughtful use of the comics page to convey a story about how we change to fit in and the costs of being untrue to ourselves along the way. 

So, WHY was I thrilled? Not for the TV show of a story I already know. It was because a favorite story was getting hyped

We don’t need cross-medium remakes of great artworks–we need robust systems to support the arts we have. This isn’t a revolutionary point. Anyone involved in the arts knows everything except a blockbuster movie with explosions is underfunded. My epiphany was ultimately about hype and the realization that big-budget movies are the only art that gets decent promotion. American Born Chinese needs a hype machine to get people to read the book more than it needs to be remade as a TV series. It needs attention to the original story in the first place.

What if, while watching Abbott Elementary, we got advertisements to go buy American Born Chinese instead of Doritos? What if during the news we got headlines of Yang’s next book instead of (or at least in addition to) Tom Cruise’s next vehicle? I want ads on podcasts for books, not just mail-order mattresses. I want art gallery openings pitched alongside F-150 ads. I wish I knew as many sculptors’ names as I do hard seltzer brands due to advertising. I’ve never had a Truly, but I cherish the mug I bought at Art on the Grand a few years ago handmade by a guy from Tennessee. 

Of course, this would take investing in arts, and that’s a conversation our society seems unwilling to have. A guy can dream, though. In the meantime, let’s use the free networks we have. Bypass the usual small talk and recommend books to friends, co-workers, or even just people waiting in line at our new coffee shops. 

And to be clear, I would also love to see an American Born Chinese spinoff TV show, or, better yet, one inspired by the book, one that goes somewhere new. We need TV shows telling Asian-American stories too, and I still want to see that cast make magic. We can tell new stories, and we should also promote the beautiful ones we already have. 

We’re Celebrating 10 Years of KickstART Farmington!

This November marks the 10th anniversary of KickstART Farmington and the 3rd anniversary of the opening of the KickstART Gallery & Shop. We’re throwing a party to celebrate these milestones and you’re invited!

Join us on Saturday evening, November 5th, from 7-9 pm at Artpack Services in Farmington Hills to celebrate and to kickstart the next decade!

Enjoy food and drinks, lively conversation, a brief presentation, a tour of the Artpack facilities with Artpack founder (and KickstART Gallery curator) Ted Hadfield, a silent auction, and even more!

Artpack Services is located at 24650 Crestview in Farmington Hills.

Seating is limited and tickets are only $10 so pick up yours today! We look forward to celebrating with YOU!


KickstART Gallery & Shop is Moving!

In case you missed the news: the building we currently occupy has been sold and, unfortunately, we will be forced to move the KickstART Gallery & Shop to a new location.

We are working with the DDA to identify a new space within downtown Farmington but at this point we do not have anything lined up.

Want to help?

There are a few ways you can help us through this transition:

  1. If you own a building that is available or know of one that might be a good fit please do let us know.
  2. The plan at that point is to close on December 23rd and reopen in the spring at our new location. Until then please consider stopping by the KickstART Gallery & Shop to buy art for your home or to purchase a beautiful gift for a family member or friend.
  3. The transition to a new space will be costly for our nonprofit organization and rental rates are increasing so it is likely we will have to pay more in a new building. Please consider supporting KickstART Farmington with a monthly donation (or a one-time gift). Any size donation is welcome and greatly appreciated!

We’re grateful for all the kind words and well-wishes we’ve received from many of you and look forward to keeping you up-to-date on our plans and eventually welcoming you to celebrate with us in our new space!

5 Reasons to See “Kid Flicks” at the 2022 GFFF

Kid Flicks is presented in partnership with the New York International Children’s Film Festival and made possible by the Farmington Community Library and the Friends of the Library.

Lively collections of short animation, live action, and documentary films reflect NYICFF’s commitment to storytelling and diversity and are sure to spark meaningful conversations. This FREE screening is recommended for kids young and old!

Kid Flicks will be screened at the 2022 Greater Farmington Film Festival on Saturday, October 8th, at 2:00pm, at the Farmington Community Library on W 12 Mile Rd. Here are 5 good reasons to join us for the film.

  1. Kids young and old will enjoy the fun and innovative animation.
  2. Kid Flicks presents short films from all over the world, including Germany, France, and South Korea.
  3. Watching these films might just inspire a young and budding filmmaker in your family!
  4. The screening is FREE.
  5. Did we mention the screening is FREE?! See you Saturday at the library!

Purchase your tickets for our other films today at!

5 Reasons to See “Charlotte” at the 2022 GFFF

Charlotte is an animated drama that tells the true story of Charlotte Salomon (Keira Knightley), a young German-Jewish painter who comes of age in Berlin on the eve of the Second World War. Fiercely imaginative and deeply gifted, she dreams of becoming an artist. Her first love applauds her talent, which emboldens her resolve. But the world around her is changing quickly and dangerously, limiting her options and derailing her dream.

When anti-Semitic policies inspire violent mobs, she leaves Berlin for the safety of the South of France. There she begins to paint again and finds new love. But her work is interrupted, this time by a family tragedy that reveals an even darker secret. Believing that only the extraordinary will save her, she embarks on the monumental adventure of painting her life story.

The film will close out the 2022 Greater Farmington Film Festival on Sunday, October 9th, at 12:30pm, at the Zekelman Holocaust Center. Here are 5 good reasons to join us for the film.

  1. Charlotte is based on the true story of German-Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon.
  2. Charlotte is voiced by two-time Academy-award nominee Keira Knightley.
  3. The film is beautifully animated and provides a unique sense of the artist’s style and work.
  4. “Remarkable. One of the best films of 2022!” according to Jeffrey Lyons.
  5. Take the opportunity to tour the Zekelman Holocaust Center and view the current exhibition To Paint is to Live: The Artwork of Erich Lichtblau-Leskly.

Purchase your tickets today at!