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Heard on CultureShift

Radicalism Of Detroit’s Underground Past Echoes Today

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Image credit: Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

The images and ideas of Detroit’s radical co-op printing press are reflective of the social movements of 2020, says Cranbrook Art Museum director Andrew Blauvelt.

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After re-opening to the public in July, the Cranbrook Art Museum has unveiled two new exhibitions, including a tribute to Detroit’s thriving underground press of the ‘60s and ‘70s.


Click on the player above to hear Cranbrook Art Museum director Andrew Blauvelt on the exhibit.


The union seal or “bug” for the Detroit Printing Co-op (1969).Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum
Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

The union seal or “bug” for the Detroit Printing Co-op (1969).

Detroit Printing Co-op: The Politics of the Joy of Printing” highlights the social activism that defined the era. 

Printed in magazines, newspapers and books, the materials on display at Cranbrook focus on topics that echo today’s focus on social issues and movements — Black empowerment, the quest for civil liberties and workers’ rights, anti-war sentiment and critiques of capitalism.

Detroit is one of the centers for this kind of activity,” says Andrew Blauvelt, director of the Cranbrook Art Museum. “It was spurred by the social and political unrest of the period and people wanting to connect.”

A selection from Cranbrook's underground press exhibit (Fredy Perlman, "The Incoherence of the Intellectual, C. Wright Mills’ Struggle to Unite Knowledge and Action," Black & Red Press, Detroit, 1970). ABOVE: Fredy and Lorraine Perlman printed Radical America from 1970–1977. The journal was birthed by members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s and later adopted a thematic approach covering a wide range of socially progressive topics and leftwing political issues.Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum
Courtesy of Cranbrook Art Museum

A selection from Cranbrook’s underground press exhibit (Fredy Perlman, “The Incoherence of the Intellectual, C. Wright Mills’ Struggle to Unite Knowledge and Action,” Black & Red Press, Detroit, 1970). ABOVE: Fredy and Lorraine Perlman printed Radical America from 1970–1977. The journal was birthed by members of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s and later adopted a thematic approach covering a wide range of socially progressive topics and leftwing political issues.

The Detroit Printing Co-op was created by a group of friends that included Fredy and Lorraine Perlman, who purchased a used industrial printing press from Chicago, brought it to Detroit and allowed others in the community to use it. 

There does seem to be this feeling that we need to get back to something more tangible.” — Andrew Blauvelt, Cranbrook Art Museum

Some of the publications created through the co-op include the publishing arm of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the influential anarchist newspaper Fifth Estate.

The issues they’re dealing with seem so relevant today,” says Blauvelt. “There does seem to be this feeling that we need to get back to something more tangible because there are so many screens. There’s been a big push over the last ten years in independent publishing and book fairs.

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Ryan Patrick Hooper, Host, CultureShift

Ryan Patrick Hooper is the host and producer of CultureShift. As a longtime arts and culture reporter.

hooper@wdet.org Follow @HooperRadio

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