Celebrating 20 Years of Living Arts

An Evening for Living Arts: Celebrating 20 Years held in the Crystal Ballroom at the historic Detroit Masonic Temple on April 11, 2019. All photos: Julianne Lindsay

An Evening for Living Arts: Celebrating 20 Years held in the Crystal Ballroom at the historic Detroit Masonic Temple on April 11, 2019. All photos: Julianne Lindsay

Last Thursday April 11th, Living Arts celebrated a milestone 20th anniversary in the Crystal Ballroom of the historic Detroit Masonic Temple. Kicking off the evening with a step and repeat welcome, guests were invited to cocktails and hors d’oeuvres in the reception area and to explore the gallery of 20 years of Living Arts work. VIP guests were treated to swag bags filled with goodies from hand tie-dyed towels to chocolates from Bon Bon Bon, a private lounge area, and a tour of the Masonic Temple. 

The program for the evening opened with Executive Director Alissa Novoselick sharing our story of growth and impact. “From one dance class with a handful of students in a church basement to serving over 50,000 youth.” Citing supportive parents, engaging teaching artists, and excited youth, Novoselick also gave a heartfelt nod to the staff and board, as well as the endless hours of grant writing and hustle. 

After encouraging the audience to dream big about the future of Detroit’s youth “where every, single child, regardless of circumstance, has the opportunity and ability to connect to the creative process and grow through instruction and guidance from an exceptional teaching artist”, Novoselick acknowledged the evening’s sponsors and supporters and welcomed Sterling Toles, the host for the evening. 

Toles, a Detroit native, DJ/producer, Kresge fellow, and long-standing teaching artist for Living Arts was an excellent host and story teller. With admiration and respect, Toles introduced colleagues with anecdotes that made the audience laugh and cheer. When speaking of Director of Dance, Marianne Brass, Toles spoke about “the pitter-patter of tiny tap shoes, sounding like the cutest little thunderstorm”. When speaking of Karilú Alarcón Forshee, he spoke of his admiration for managing toddlers with grace, whereas sometimes his class would end in light chaos. 

He shared his love of hip hop and the connection of cultural reinvention with hip hop instructor Daishiro Tsushima, and spoke of all the talents and many hats worn by veteran teaching artist Natasha Beste and her animation students. And when speaking of student Diamond Davis, his pride in her development as an artist and young woman shone through. 

The program featured two dance performances for the evening. One by the Youth Dance Ensemble performing a 2013 throwback lyrical dance entitled Caminos to Calle 13’s “Latinoamérica”. The other, a demonstration of popping/locking, breaking, freestyle, and vogue by the hyper-energetic advanced hip hop class. Three videos were also presented: an animation from Beste’s students on how creating art makes them feel; a profile of Alarcón Forshee and her Detroit Wolf Trap classes; and a retrospective reflection video of the people who have made Living Arts a thriving organization over the last 20 years. 

Diamond Davis, a long-standing student with the organization shared her experience of creativity and mentorship. Entrusted to be a peer mentor herself, Davis recalled being tasked with putting together 2018’s Open Arts Fest by Program Manager, Zack Bissell. Davis cites Bissell as a “great blessing” in her life who “has pushed me [sic] to do so much”. She spoke of going off to college, but returning to shadow Bissell to learn more from him. 

Novoselick returned to the stage to then speak about honored guest for the evening, Jason REVOK. Following an agreement with a corporation over the improper usage of his artwork, REVOK gifted the funds to four Detroit-based arts organizations, including Living Arts. “We want to express our deepest gratitude to you, in person, in front of all of these people, for your transformative gift. Your generosity will allow us to enter our third decade, ready to take on projects that would have been inconceivable 20 years ago.” As a token of gratitude, Novoselick presented a framed photo of Living Arts’ students signed by the youth. 

Rounding out the program, Matt Nahan, Board Member and Development Committee Chair, introduced the connections made possible by the people in the room and those in the Living Arts community. He then announced that with the gift REVOK presented, the organization halfway to their goal of a $100,000 20th Anniversary Fund. The Fund, Nahan explained, would “allow us to invest in the future of Detroit’s youth by creating new community and educational partnerships, build relationships with some of the area's most exciting artists, and provide the tools and resources to make it all happen. ”

Closing out the evening, Toles gave thanks to the attendees, and sent applause to the rafters for DJs Brendan Asante and student-DJ Johnathan. Toles invited all guests to stay for champagne and desserts and to explore the animation station, gallery, and enjoy one another’s company. 

An Evening for Living Arts raised $75,000 in sponsorship and ticket sales and an additional $10,000 toward the 20th Anniversary Fund (bringing the Fund’s current total to $60,000). 

For more information on the 20th Anniversary Fund please contact Tara Toumaala at tara@livingartsdetroit.org.