During the pandemic, the Hamtramck Arts & Culture Commission revamped to create new programs for neighbors to get to know each other better.
One of those initiatives is called Our City, a three-part program organized by Colleen Burke and Faina Lerman of the commission.
“It’s been a while getting the vision together, getting ducks in a row,” says Burke. “I think up until the Our City events, the commission has mostly been in a supportive role to other existing organizations and events happening.”
Lerman says the commission is working to build relationships in the city.
“I think it’s still in the early phases of figuring out how best to conserve the arts community here in Hamtramck, trying to build relationships with some of the other commissions and trying to get some visibility within the community.”
Finding a way to connect as “Our City”
Our City was created to bring the community together through poetry, food and music. It’s funded by a small grant through the Michigan Arts and Culture Council (MACC).
Burke says the first event in June 2022 brought about 70 people together to enjoy poetry in several languages.
“We held (the event) at the Ukrainian Immaculate Conception Church in the Rose Garden. We had seven poems representing seven different cultures that make up Hamtramck, read in their original language.”
Among those languages were Bangla, Bosnian and Arabic.
Burke says another event held was based around food, where women brought dishes and recipes to share.
“There’s already a big block party that happens every summer, centered around people bring food… music, lots of games for kids. We’re inviting a couple of different women from different cultures in Hamtramck to make something that’s special to their cultural story.”
Looking for ways to connect
Lerman says the commission hopes to increase its reach.
“We’re interested more about how to get to know our neighbors a little better from backgrounds… to try to create some intimate programs that can kind of bring us together around a common theme, such as poetry, or music or film.”
Burke and Lerman have lived in Hamtramck for years. They say they’ve seen people come and go.
Burke says there’s more work to be done.
“There are cultural issues that keep people from being in the same space together… that we always struggle with like, ‘Is it solved? Is it something to leave alone?'”
Lerman says people have different ideas of how to interact.
“Sometimes you try to relate and there isn’t a common ground yet… How far do we push to try to be like, ‘We should all be like this. We need to get along.’ Whose idea of a neighborhood is that?”
Lerman and Burke say they hope the commission can expand to include more people of different ages and backgrounds.
Burke says there’s an opportunity for growth.
“It has some people on the commission who have great ideas, and who are very connected to different aspects of different art worlds. That’s cool, but it doesn’t have a lot of representation… and it has the opportunity to have that.”
Listen: Hamtramck organizers discuss new community-building series.
Photo credit: Nate Pappas/WDET.