For our second challenge of the 2021-2022 program year, we were honored to partner with Marygrove Conservancy, a nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve the legacy of Marygrove College through equitable stewardship of a campus that exemplifies excellence in education, serving Northwest Detroit and the city overall. Eight teams of Fellows collaborated with the Marygrove team – led by COO Racheal Allen and Program Manager Turkessa Baldridge – along with community stakeholders over seven-weeks. Learn more from the perspective of each team! 

How can arts and culture be a force for equitable community development? What would it look like to support the creatives that make Detroit’s neighborhoods vibrant and full of life?

From day one, we were inspired by the way our partner organization, Marygrove Conservancy, was thinking about these questions. Their dedication to expanding their impact beyond the walls of the former college grounds was palpable. Through a collaboration with artist and community development practitioner Theaster Gates, Marygrove had begun to reimagine how this pillar of the community could once again drive positive change — this time, with arts and culture at the center. Our task was to catalyze this work and further bring Marygrove’s vision to life.

Our team in particular had two main tasks. First, compile and organize a list of educational resources — including fellowship opportunities, grants, affordable studio space, and more — for the “culture-bearers” of the neighborhood. Second, create a pairing tool that would match these culture-bearers with the specific resources that are tailored to their needs. After pondering who might be included in this audience (we chose to focus primarily on artists and small business-owners), our team set to work. 

Interviews with stakeholders in the neighborhoods surrounding Marygrove were revealing. We learned that community members had a strong desire to understand the resources that existed for creatives in their own backyard. Many of the people we interviewed spoke to the disconnection that exists between neighbors, but that any effort to bring these neighbors together must be done with a long-term dedication to community. “You’ve got to be very intentional about presenting yourself as a friend,” one of our stakeholders from the University of Detroit Mercy said.

Ultimately, we created our tools for Marygrove with these insights in mind. Our main deliverable was creating a design for a web app, “D2-4U” with three main capabilities. First, a search function for users to locate resources from a database of funding opportunities, skill-building workshops, and more. Second, a resource pairing function where users are guided to resources based on a profile they create. And third, a page for culture-bearers to connect with each other through a community message board, event listings, and more.

For our team, the most rewarding part of the project was working with our partners at Marygrove every step of the way — with Turkessa Baldridge, in particular — to align our work with their vision for the Conservancy. As we reflect back on our project, we are grateful for her feedback and to each stakeholder who helped us understand the surrounding community.