Art Market

How Detroit Gallery Library Street Collective Is Supporting Artists and Connecting with Community

Isabelle Sakelaris
Jan 3, 2022 9:12PM

Beverly Fishman, Untitled (pain, depression, adhd), 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Library Street Collective.

Portrait of Anthony and JJ Curis by Bre’ann White. Courtesy of Anthony and JJ Curis.

As the founders of Detroit-based gallery Library Street Collective, JJ and Anthony Curis have always been invested in building community. For the Curises, some of that focus stems from the experiences they had 10 years ago upon entering the art world—JJ’s background is in tax consulting, while Anthony’s is in real estate development. “Library Street Collective initially started as a passion project, and we try to approach each day with that same emotion,” Anthony Curis recalled in a recent interview.

Since Library Street Collective was founded, the Curises have worked with established artists such as McArthur Binion, Beverly Fishman, Nick Cave, and Frank Stella, as well as emerging artists including Jammie Holmes, Cassi Namoda, Conrad Egyir, Natalie Wadlington, and Tyrrell Winston—some of whom had their first solo exhibitions at the gallery. In addition to exhibitions, the gallery’s broad programming also includes public projects.

FriendsWithYou, installation view of Rainbow City Roller Rink, 2018–19, at 1001 Woodward, Detroit. Photo by Lyndon French. Courtesy of FriendsWithYou and Library Street Collective.


“Although some of our community-driven projects are temporary in nature, many have a more lasting impact,” Anthony remarked. For example, The Belt, named for its location in Detroit’s historic garment district, was an empty alleyway that has been transformed into one of Detroit’s most-frequented pedestrian spaces, where passersby can view public works by Jammie Holmes, Nina Chanel Abney, Ellen Rutt, Sam Friedman, Patrick Martinez, Jason Revok, and others. Likewise, above The Belt is Phillip K. Smith III’s 100-foot-long Detroit Skybridge, which transformed a once-vacant pedestrian passageway into a work of art—and an addition to Detroit’s skyline.

Additionally, the gallery has produced public programs that directly engage the local community—projects that, as Anthony noted, “sit at the intersection of art and activation.” He recalled a few highlights: “Rainbow City Roller Rink (2018–19), an inflatable wonderland turned roller-skating rink designed by artist duo FriendsWithYou; and Wayfinding (2017), a public skate park with Tony Hawk and Ryan McGinness. And Doug Aitken’s site-specific installation Mirage Detroit (2018) set a mirrored sculpture in the form of an American suburban house inside of the historic State Savings Bank Building.”

Carrie Mae Weems, installation view of RESIST COVID TAKE 6!, 2020, in East Village, Detroit. Photo by Bre’Ann White. Courtesy of Carrie Mae Weems and Library Street Collective.

He continued, “At the same time, we’re deeply interested in socially conscious projects that often emit a different type of response from the public.” Perhaps the most prominent example is Holmes’s They’re Going to Kill Me (2020), “a national aerial demonstration that highlighted the final words of George Floyd following his brutal murder,” Anthony explained. Another recent project was Resist Covid Take 6! (2020), “an artist-driven public awareness campaign by Carrie Mae Weems to educate and enlighten Black, Brown, and Native American communities on the impact of COVID-19,” Anthony said. Whether ephemeral or permanent, interactive or observational, all of Library Street Collective’s projects seek to serve a greater purpose.

“Our mission has always been focused on utilizing the arts to create positive and equitable change in our community. We’ve addressed this through large-scale public art projects, beautification efforts, public space activation, and community-driven partnerships with Detroit-based nonprofits and residents,” Anthony affirmed. “At some point along the way, there was a realization that we can have a community-driven mission in the city while also providing a sustainable and resourceful program for our growing artist network. This was the ‘light bulb’ moment in our journey.”

Rendering of the entry to The Shepherd at dusk by PRO. Courtesy of Library Street Collective.

Their most recent initiative, slated to open in spring 2023, is The Shepherd, which involves the transformation and reopening of a 110-year-old Romanesque-style church that will house exhibitions, performances, and other public programming. Additionally, the grounds of the church will offer two and a half acres of publicly accessible green space and walkways called The Nave, as well as a sculpture park in memory of Detroit-based artist Charles McGee. Adjacent properties will be rented to local artists as apartments and studio space in an effort to staunch negative gentrification and to encourage more artmaking in the neighborhood. “Everything that we’re doing is really about synergies—finding like-minded stakeholders, individuals, businesses, and community groups that can excel when everyone comes together,” Anthony said.

The concept for The Shepherd arose from the same notion of congregation. “Neighborhoods like the East Village [where The Shepherd is located] were built around church: It was like-minded people coming together for a common goal, gathering, and eventually living in the same neighborhood,” Anthony said. “So in some ways, we hope to continue that idea, but in a much different context—this time using the arts as a way to inspire and bring people together.” Given the historical significance of the church itself, both as a structure and a community touchstone, it was important for the Curises to ensure they were proposing a project that would be inclusive of and beneficial to the residents of the East Village neighborhood.

Natalie Wadlington
Coffee Date, 2019
Library Street Collective

Planning The Shepherd was a large undertaking: Over the last two years, JJ and Anthony met with Rochelle Riley, the director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit, as well as stakeholders from the East Village Association and Jefferson East Inc., in order to ensure that the goals of The Shepherd would meet the specific needs of the East Village community and Detroit’s community at large.

Other stakeholders include acclaimed artists McArthur Binion and Charles McGee, as well as founder and curator of the Black Art Library, Asmaa Walton. A permanent branch of the Black Art Library called the East Village Arts Library will be housed in the transept of the church, and Binion’s Modern Ancient Brown Foundation will also be headquartered there.

“It’s pretty ironic when you think of the concept of church and…what that space was built for—fast-forward 100-plus years, and we’re not necessarily changing the idea,” Anthony said. “We’re looking to bring people together, but around a different idea: using arts and culture as a way to do so, but really just trying to expand upon what was originally there and how we can impact the East Village neighborhood.”

Isabelle Sakelaris