From The Guardian Building to the GM Renaissance Center, Detroit has its fair share of grand buildings that have made architectural history over the years, but even some of the city’s most unassuming structures contain valuable information about the past. Nestled in the heart of Corktown, Detroit’s oldest neighborhood, is a rectangular building that dates back to 1849 called the Corktown Workers Rowhouse. Once serving as a multi-family home for working-class immigrants in the historically Irish neighborhood, the Rowhouse has managed to survive nearly 200 years in Detroit as a functional boarding home that stopped service in the 1970s. In recent months, its restored, true-to-history, gray-white exterior has become adorned with the abstract art of artist Thomas Bell with plans for even more art to circulate both in and outside of its walls. That’s because The Corktown Experience, a local nonprofit organization, has plans for transforming this piece of Detroit history into a workable exhibition space. And on Friday, Sept. 25, from 8 p.m. to midnight, there are plans to showcase even more art with a video installation by interFACEArts that will project from three windows in the home.
The man behind the art installations is Timothy Price. He’s the programming, marketing and events director for the Worker’s Rowhouse, an affiliate of The Corktown Experience. He said that there are plans in motion to restore the building, the home next door and its surrounding yard to create a hotspot for art and community. Unlike previous attempts to remodel the building that have taken place over the years, the goal is not to utilize the Rowhouse entirely as museum space — though it does feature nods to its past inside — but to showcase local artistry alongside the building’s history.
“The vision is to have an exhibition center. The unit at the end is going to be the exhibition center, the middle will be a lounge and then this will be a gallery,” Price said, in reference to the multiple rooms within the Rowhouse. “So we’re going to make white walls and do different curation of artists and exhibits.”
Price got involved with the project roughly 1 1/2 years ago, has a background in events planning and has had experience working with various Detroit nonprofit organizations like AIDS Walk Detroit. A member of the LGBTQ community himself, Price is excited to make space at the Rowhouse for LGBTQ artists, too.
“I’ve worked with a lot of LGBTQ artists,” Price said. “… I like history and we want to educate people, but we also want to stimulate people and bring art into history so that people say, ‘Why is this abstract piece of art hanging up there? And why is this Pride flag there?’ That’s part of history.”
Indeed, because there is a record of every single person who lived in the home from 1849 through the 1970s, Price said that there’s a high possibility that the building was home to LGBTQ tenants at some point. He said that at some point he’d be open to exploring the histories of the Rowhouse’s dozens of residents over the years.
Before that project takes off, however, more physical changes are scheduled to take place around the building. Alongside the Rowhouse’s exterior, a soundproof wall will be built that will stretch from its neighboring Most Holy Trinity Church to the nearby Irish Plaza Park. This will serve not only as a clear partition for the outdoor events but as an extension to the exhibition space.
“There will be some permanent work, and then what we’re going to do is start activation,” Price said. “Because the work that’s going to be featured on the house and elsewhere in the city will then become part of the wall on the back here.”
Additionally, event planning is on the table for the Rowhouse.
“We’re going to do a shipping container commercial kitchen with bathrooms and do a three-season pavilion so that people can rent it, do events here, and I’m talking everything from metal sculpture to different things, too,” Price said. “And then kind of getting into the next programming, which I finally finalized with an artist that I worked with at Midtown that we have, he’s doing a piece kind of relating LGBT and African American artists to go out front.”
That artist is Geno Harris, a self-taught Detroit artist who founded The Poor Man’s Art Collective specializes in his own brand of abstract decoupage. He said he was delighted to be thought of for the Rowhouse project.
“He contacted me for the first time when I was the managing gallerists for the Carr Center Gallery when it was on Woodward before they moved into the space they are in now. And he featured some of my artwork, and we became fast friends. He always expressed an interest in doing some other things together and this opportunity came up, and I jumped at the idea because it was one of those projects that would lend itself to bringing on board other artists who had not had the opportunity,” Harris said.
Because for Harris, creating a collaborative environment among the artists in his area is the ultimate goal — something that he’s excited that the Rowhouse will provide.
“Me, personally speaking, I’m all about community amongst artists,” he said. “So when Tim said that to me, I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely. You’ve found the perfect thing for Geno to be a part of. The art part and the possibility of doing exhibitions later on when we can be free from the pandemic sounds like the perfect fit … to bring people to see different types of art and to see different types of people create different types of art.”
But art is not all that the Rowhouse will have to offer when work on it is completed. The upstairs portion of the building will be offered as offices for local organizations to make use of as necessary — truly, a community space.
To find out more about the Rowhouse visit corktownexperience.com or follow its social media accounts on Facebook at facebook.com/corktownexperience and corktown_workers_rowhouse on Instagram. The Workers Rowhouse is located at 1430 6th St. in Detroit. The upcoming art show will be on Friday, Sept. 25, from 8 p.m. to midnight.