Detroit is the city that has produced a turnaround for the ages in recent years. But the transition continues to evolve in many colorful ways, thanks in part to a group of influential couples who poised themselves long ago to roll up their sleeves, get their hands dirty and drive the city forward. While having a significant other certainly is no prerequisite for achievement in this town, the duos who are successfully navigating Detroit’s opportunities through their individual and joint efforts are nothing short of awe-inspiring.
These are the couples who have collaborated literally by candle light in the darkness of abandoned Detroit, turning forgotten spaces into beautiful meeting places. These are the trailblazers who have joined forces on everything from creating artistic environments; to driving employment opportunities; to delighting our palates; to getting us up off our couches for some good old fashioned let-your-hair-down, dance-your-ass-off fun. They’re in our restaurants, our art spaces, our night life and our community, working hard to make a name for themselves and the city. These are the trendsetters, the entrepreneurs and the very pulse of Detroit. They are hip, cultured and spirited; pumping away to forge a life together while simultaneously juggling the successes and stresses of creating an experience that will keep changing people’s minds, one-by-one, about just who and what Detroit really is.
Who they are:
Both graduates of College for Creative Studies (CCS), Ash and Jon founded Detroit’s most illustrious dance party, Haute to Death, in 2007 after being previously known for throwing art events. Over the past decade they have evolved, expanding into special events and secret parties with their high-glamour, hedonistic, Studio 54-leaning style. “We are in the art of making $1 look like $1 million dollars – it’s about being the very best version of yourself, no matter what that looks like,” explained Ash. “Even though there is that high-glamour, bad-behavior component of [our dance parties], there is a very familiar component to it. We are very much like a family. There is something very emotional that happens on our dance floor. It is such an active catharsis. It’s for your mental health. It’s not frivolous. We’re here for you to be free and enjoy each other.”
How they met:
Jon and Ash met at CCS where they had a writing class together in 2003. They had both always been active in Detroit’s creative communities and in throwing art events. “It was fun artwork and bars and ad-hoc spaces- someone else would DJ, or their band would play,” remembers Ash. “Detroit has a history of great parties. But this was at the end of the garage-rock explosion and we really wanted a dance option that felt the same energy like a house party all the time.” So Jon and Ash began Haute to Death.
So, what’s new?
Ash: “We are coming up on our 10-year anniversary and we are going to have a lot of special events with really heavy visual arts,” said Ash who noted that Haute to Death will also be releasing a coffee table book as part of their anniversary celebration.
Ash: “I just really like it. I grew up in Hamtramck and Jon is from South Lyon, so we’ve been around. It’s a great home base, it always feels good to come back to after traveling- this is my home and I like to contribute to it. It’s nice to live in a city where you feel like your presence matters. You learn from people that came before you and you feel like you have wisdom you can impart on others.”
What were some of the successes and challenges of building a life in Detroit?
Ash: “High points: we feel that we have something that grows very organically and it’s never forced and it is high-glamour playtime. It’s organic spontaneity and we couldn’t be happier with it. It’s nice when you give a cue and people know how to run with it. Throwing a party for almost a decade is rare. And to be allowed to keep going is really very special to us. It’s such a compliment when someone wants to call and ask about our professional and personal lives. Also, to tour to other cities that are considered “cool” but once you get there kids are super stoked to see you- saying that they don’t have anything like what we offer on the regular. It’s a reminder that Detroit parties are really unique.” In terms of challenges, Ash explains, “When you work with someone that you have a romantic involvement with, there is a lot of give and take and compromise. In the end, all works out well. I am thankful for that. We are both artists and we have visions; we just have different ways of getting there. It’s about compromise sometimes and delegating responsibilities more than anything. And not taking things personally. When you are working with someone that you are married to, it can be tough to not take things personally. It’s about playing to your own strengths and celebrating the strengths of your partner. We can trust each other.”
Top tips for maintaining a relationship while juggling the workload of success
Ash: “Most importantly, don’t take anything personally which is easy to do when you work with someone you care very deeply about. You have chosen to pursue this life of passion with this other person which is in theory simple but difficult in practice. When you are both controlling/creative you don’t want to relinquish [control]. But if you take that moment to remember, ‘I really trust this person and we are working on this together,’ that is important. It is important not to shut down when things get hectic. Challenge yourself and challenge each other. You have to trust this person is going to take care of you.”
You’ve got 24 hours of no obligation in Detroit. What do you do and where do you eat?
Ash: “We get coffee at Astro and see friends; if you don’t have friends there, you will. Then to Clark Park to play tennis. There’s always a ton of kids playing sports, people walking their dogs, running- whatever. It’s a positive space. We like driving around or riding our bikes. We both shoot city landmarks. I focus on hand-painted signs and old typography, Jon focuses on architectural works. We like turning down streets we have never seen before to capture artifacts; maybe coming across a new space we have never seen before. For lunch we go to Haz which is a great place to get a sandwich and a story from the owner. As far as going out we go to Temple Bar or to Motor City Wine and hang out on the patio during the summer- there’s literally never bad music at MCW. DIA and MOCAD and Dabl’s museum; Craft Work in west village is our choice for best end of the night cocktail. We also like the Bell Isle Conservatory, going in the cactus house and soaking in the warmth and green.”
If you had a magic ball, what would you hope to see for yourselves professionally 5 years from now?
Ash: “We are hosts. I never know what to say I do for a living. I’m a cultural hostess. I do whatever needs to be done, and I like to make sure that people can be their most honest selves when they go out. In the future we don’t know if that looks like a guide service for travelers and journalists, but mostly we’d really like to pursue a venue. We do what we can to just create optimum space and experiences for everyone – that takes many different shapes.”