Detroit’s Carr Center, a hub for the arts, is in danger of shutting down. The community is rallying to save this vital cultural institution.

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Grammy nominated jazz singer and artist Carmen Lundy, right, of Los Angeles, looks over an acrylic painting by artist Carla Harden during a VIP event at the Carr Center Performance Studio in Detroit on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022.
(Credit: Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press)

Duante Beddingfield

Detroit Free Press

One of Detroit’s cultural gems may be in danger of closing its doors.

The Carr Center, a Midtown institution based in the Park Shelton, is focused on bringing Black art to metro Detroit communities. But the center has suffered multiple setbacks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing rising costs and significant debt, its leaders are hoping to find ways to continue striving for major-league achievements.

“The Carr Center is in the business of preserving, presenting, and promoting African American arts,” said CEO Oliver Ragsdale, Jr. “What we are looking to do is amplify the Black arts experience, lift up Black excellence in all of its forms, whether it is music, dance, visual arts, film, poetry and the written word. The arts are part of our everyday life, and within Black culture, the arts are central.”

More:After a year filled with losses, Carr Center emerges with new homes and a new outlook

The Carr Center was founded in 2009, born out of parent organization the Arts League of Michigan. It was once headquartered on East Grand River in the Harmonie Park area of downtown, but was forced out in 2017 as part of a redevelopment of that neighborhood.

Ragsdale has been in place for its entire existence. Over the years, Carr has become known for bold moves in artistic presentation, with groundbreaking shows and interactive exhibitions studded throughout the calendar year.

One example is 2023’s “SEEN/UNSEEN,” which featured Carr Center Artistic Director Terri Lyne Carrington leading a 15-piece jazz ensemble while world renowned visual artist Mickalene Thomas served as “video DJ,” splashing images and videos on a wall in response to the music being played.

More:Three internationally renowned artists to come together at Detroit’s Carr Center

Oliver Ragsdale, chief executive and program director of the Carr Center.

The center has also spent years cultivating a relationship with legendary choreographer Debbie Allen, whose Los Angeles-based dance studio coordinates an intensive summer dance workshop and showcase in Detroit annually.

“We started working together in 2018, introduced through the former president of the Kennedy Center,” said Ragsdale. “She came in and auditioned the kids, and we had a couple hundred kids who came out. A lot of them did not know her, but their parents and grandparents did. She came back and put a curriculum together. We have five people who work for her and report to her; they come in and they teach ballet, African, hip-hop, contemporary, jazz, and then we do a showcase performance.

“The thing that always strikes me is this is the same woman who has two Tony nominations, three Emmys, a Kennedy Center Honor and used to choreograph the Oscars with Quincy Jones as the music director. She comes in and teaches our kids. That’s pretty phenomenal.”

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