A rainy Monday - the steel grey outside betrays the seam in nature’s weld between winter and spring. Inside the loading dock we gather and are led into to a huge freight elevator. The freight elevator is discriminating but not prejudiced - this room ascending that has embraced Vincent Van Gogh, and the carved wooden treasures of ancient Africa, now opens its arms to us and Rodriguez - song muralist - the balladeer of Detroit streetlife.

The Detroit Institute of Arts, the marble mammoth of Woodward is quiet, and we are quiet - all individually trying to think of interesting things to say to Rodriguez. He is almost indistinguishable from the city itself - smiling, enigmatic, dressed in black - older than each of us - and as we look back and forth and smile and nod his presence is pleasantly and gently intimidating.

We wind our way between bronze sculptures and the oily blossoms of the impressionist age. Then a shadowy hallway just before the courtyard.

Rodriguez takes a seat and unsheathes his guitar. Within moments, it is hard to tell whether he has faded in to the mural behind him, or whether the mural is his song manifest. The marble floor thunders the silent tinctured Ford plant rhythm section of Diego Rivera.

His voice coaxes the few feeble rays of sunlight through the girded clouds above and the vaulted skylight and they tumble gently onto the white marble floor and spread warmly to the bases of planters, whose plastic hostas don’t need the errant beams but seem to enjoy them anyway. His calloused fingers are a glockenspiel on the fresh brass wound strings on his guitar. The rhythm of those fingers on strings weave their way through the thumping strum; building subtle intricate beats that have become the envy of South African funk musicians.

Somewhere within the polychrome mud, I imagine the workers appreciate their countryman’s songs: funky, familial, familiar- Rodriguez himself is a laborer of song, a craftsman of verse, a fitting addition to their union of history. Caught in the resin of time, and art, and song these taciturn Detroiters stretch their muscles, hopefully tap their feet, and keep the fires burning in the forges of our city’s passion.

- Phreddy Wischusen
5200 Woodward Avenue, Detroit

The DIA has been a beacon of culture for the Detroit area for well over a century. Founded in 1885, the museum was originally located on Jefferson Avenue, but, due to its rapidly expanding collection, moved to a larger site on Woodward Avenue in 1927. The new Beaux-Arts building, designed by Paul Cret, was immediately referred to as the "temple of art." Two wings were added in the 1960s and 1970s, and a major renovation and expansion that began in 1999 was completed in 2007.

The museum covers 677,000 square feet that includes more than 100 galleries, an 1,150-seat auditorium, a 380-seat lecture/recital hall, an art reference library, and a state-of-the-art conservation services laboratory.

The Detroit Industry fresco cycle in Rivera Court [inside the D.I.A.] is the finest example of Mexican muralist work in the United States; [Painter Diego] Rivera considered it the most successful work of his career. In 1932 when Rivera was well known in the United States as one of the leaders of the Mexican muralist movement, he was commissioned by Edsel Ford, president of the Arts Commission as well as of Ford Motor Company, and Dr. William Valentiner, director of the DIA, to create two murals for the museum in its Garden Court.

The north and south walls are devoted to three sets of images: the representation of the races that shape North American culture and make up its work force, the automobile industry, and the other industries of Detroit (medical, pharmaceutical, and chemical). At the bottom of the walls are small panels which depict the sequence of a day in the life of the workers at the Ford River Rouge plant. The central panel of the north wall represents important operations in the production and manufacture of the engine and transmission of the 1932 Ford V8. The major panel of the south wall is devoted to the production of the automobile's exterior.

From www.dia.org
Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Jeremy Franchi Photo by Jeremy Franchi Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Steve Walls Photo by Jeremy Franchi Photo by Katie Barkel Photo by Jeremy Franchi Photo by Katie Barkel
Inner City Blues

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Katie Barkel
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