At the corner of Forest and Woodward is an invitingly unassuming space that happens to be the launching pad for many of Detroit’s most talented creatives. The Detroit Artists Market (DAM) was founded in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression. Originally called Detroit Young Artists Market, the gallery was created to provide a source of income for artists under the age of 30. In 1936, the gallery’s name changed to Detroit Artists Market, which reflected the growth of the organization as it began to exhibit both emerging and established Detroit artists of all ages and stature. In addition to providing artists with the means of a livelihood, DAM’s founders had another goal: educating public taste through the exhibition and sale of work by the finest of Detroit’s local artists.
DAM’s strength is to communicate visually and powerfully what words often cannot. DAM has helped launch and foster the careers of a number of great artists, including Hughie Lee Smith, Maija Grotell (mother of American ceramics who emigrated from Helsinki), and Charles McGee. Charles McGee came back to Detroit and DAM in 1969 to curate the landmark exhibition “Seven Black Artists,” which along with himself, included Lester Johnson, Henri Unbaji King, Robert Murray, James Lee, Allie McGhee, Harold Neal, and Robert J. Stull. In summary, DAM has a long history of putting forth a diverse group of artists who, through their work, speak to issues that affect underserved people.
DAM Director Matt Fry says, “Our mission is crystal clear. We invent new ways of promoting, exhibiting and selling the work of Detroit artists such as our annual Art Auction Gala. It’s fantastic! The premise is we pair experienced artists with younger artists who haven’t necessarily met before. They make a great collaborative connection resulting in gorgeous works of art that are then auctioned off. The artists receive a commission from those sales. Some of the artists loved this experience so much they donated their commission back to DAM. A very tangible aspect of the Artists Market is economic support through events like the Gala, the Garden Party and the Holiday Show. Our Art Placement Services work in tandem with interior designers for both commercial and private acquisitions to further the put-food-on-the-table role the founders intended and we fulfill.”
Ralph Jones is a case in point of the impact DAM can have on an artist. He got a factory job in the ’70s when manufacturing meant stability and a secure retirement. He always had an interest in photography but didn’t really get after it until he left the factory floor. “It just sort of happened,” he said. With inclusion in a group show at DAM, he got exposure he might not have otherwise enjoyed. He says it gave him “instant credibility and showing there validated my work.” He was then invited to exhibit as the monthly featured artist which received tremendous response. “I did not come from an artist background. They gave me a chance.” Ralph’s introduction into the Detroit art scene led to shows at the Scarab Club, the Carr Cultural Center and most recently the thrill of inclusion with some of Detroit’s most prolific photographers Jenny Risher, Jon DeBoer, and Dave Jordano in the Detroit Institute of Arts’ current photography exhibit “Detroit After Dark: Photographs from the DIA Collection” which runs through April 23, 2017.
While traveling abroad, Ralph discovered the perception of Detroit was quite different than his personal experience. For the last few years he has been documenting the city in an attempt to inspire an appreciation and understanding of the uniqueness of Detroit, her buildings and her people. Ralph Jones has been shooting almost exclusively at night. “It’s a different vibe. A different light. Good and bad. Beautiful and ugly.” The ‘Round Midnight series, inspired by a Thelonious Monk song, is shot primarily between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. The images are as diverse as the city itself. From high-octane images of nocturnal street racing, firefighters on the night shift waiting for the call to action or a lonely soul walking down Cass on a snowy evening. “Someone walking down the middle of the street looks so desolate. It’s just beautiful. It’s really about the time. I try not to overthink it. I’ve lived here all my life. I’m so fascinated with the people who stayed. I know it’s ridiculous but, I’d love to photograph everybody in Detroit.”