CCS grads forgo usual neighborhoods — and dryness — to base new art group (with video)
When eight local artists went searching for space for their new group, the Chocolate Cake Design Collective, they looked in all the obvious Detroit neighborhoods where creative types tend to cluster.
But rental rates in Corktown, Eastern Market and Midtown were too expensive.
Last July, they chose an east-side workspace in a former toy warehouse on Van Dyke Avenue, north of McNichols Road. (See video below.)
They got 12,000 square feet for $500 a month. Each member contributes $150 a month fee toward rent, renovation and art supplies. The collective has filed for L3C status to help sustain the group through donations and a limited profit.
Most of the members are recent College for Creative Studies graduates. They come from a variety of backgrounds including graphic design, woodworking, ceramics and glassblowing. Before graduation, the group often met to work on school projects, exchanging critiques of each other's work. The toy warehouse provides a space for them to continue learning from each other and begin producing sellable crafts.
The artists are allowed to renovate the space as they wish, and through their combined efforts, the warehouse space has slowly begun to fill up with the sort of equipment they once used every day at CCS.
While some members have managed to find post-graduate employment — member Matt Arnold, for example, is an art director at Union AdWorks in Rochester Hills — others had a harder time.
That made the cheap rent all the more necessary to keep them working on projects.
"The space that we have here, we can't get anywhere else," said Arnold, who interned New York and Chicago, and was recently in Spain, places where people expressed amazement at the space opportunities in Detroit. "It just blew their minds. They just couldn't believe it."
Though it's a cheap alternative to renting in other areas of the city, the warehouse does have its faults. Danielle Denha, a member and an art director at Southfield-based GlobalHue, estimates that two-thirds of the space is leaky due to problems with the roof. For now, raised tarps help channel the rainwater into buckets.
"(Another member and I) came in here for the sole purpose of dumping out the water buckets, and it was probably 100 gallons of water," Katie Bramlage, who by day works at The Artisan's Bench in downtown Brighton, said of a recent Sunday trip to the spot.
Nevertheless, they plan to move ahead on a plan to update their space's electrical system so they can run their woodshop and glass kiln.
The structural problems have kept the group from seeking new members who would increase funding and productivity. But they remain positive, reinforced by a supportive community of fellow artists and entrepreneurs.
"These things can only hold us back so long," Denha said. "If you know the right people, you'll be in a good situation." The group has held informal parties drawing like-minded Detroiters and some funding, and Denha hopes the group will hold more organized fundraising events in the near future.
Goals for the next year include gallery openings and to gain commissions as a group. The collective plans to stay at the Van Dyke location at least through the summer of 2013, with savings soon to be invested in the sorely needed electrical update.
For more information, visit http://chocolatecakedesigncollective.org.