Kay Willingham is the owner of Art In Motion on the Avenue of Fashion, a storied district on Livernois Ave. that has been known as a Black business area for decades.
Art In Motion is one of many Detroit-famous businesses that dot the street, like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Kuzzo’s and Simply Casual. Willingham is a ceramist, she uses clay to create pottery art, and in her studio she shows couples how to shape the clay with a process called throwing.
“We were the second Black family to move on the block. I was very familiar with walking the streets.”
New developments and the pandemic have threatened the livelihood of many shops on the corridor. Willingham plans to stick through it all. She’s been in business on the avenue since 2013, but she’s lived in the surrounding neighborhoods all her life.
“We were the second Black family to move on the block,” she says. “I was very familiar with walking the streets: Grennel’s, Ferguson’s, Belle Jacobs and, of course, B. Seigels.”
Not too long after the 1967 rebellion, she grew up during a period of transformation for the city. Racial tensions were high, jobs were moving out of the city and malls were being bilt in the suburbs. Many white families fled the city for work and to avoid Black folks. They left behind the neighborhoods and businesses.
Black businesses became a mainstay of the street. And instead of boutiques, hair salons started opening up. Livernois was transitioning from the Avenue of Fashion to the Avenue of Hair.
This was also when Kay mer her first ceramics teacher: Charles McGee the world-renowned sculptor whose pieces are on display at the Wright Museum and Marygrove College.
“I took classes with him as a child at Gallery Seven. And so that was really my inspiration to getting into sculpting,” Willingham says.