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The Purchase Impact: American RIAD Project Update

While it’s still a year away from completion, work is progressing on Ghana Think Tank’s American Riad project in Detroit. Dozens of Purchase students have participated in this program as part of their coursework.

American Riad is an innovative public art project that strives to combat social isolation through a space devoted to community connection in Detroit’s North End. The collaborative project will eventually turn an empty 12-unit building, an abandoned house, and the vacant lot that lies between them into eight low-income apartments and six businesses surrounding a Moroccan-inspired shared courtyard.

Ghana Think Tank is an arts and activism organization co-founded by Associate Professor of Art+Design Christopher Robbins (also interim director, School of Art+Design). It was awarded a $135,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for American Riad through the Knight Arts Challenge, which funds ideas that engage and enrich Detroit through the arts.

Two of the six steel umbrella vaults necessary to complete the Riad canopy are now complete. A number of skill-shares, workshops, and community events have been held at the site, and one of the abandoned buildings is nearly renovated. Next steps include finishing the installation of the courtyard structures and working closely with community organizations to meet their long-term goal of using arts and culture as a driver for economic renewal within the community.

Opportunities for Purchase

Robbins immediately recognized the project’s learning and social action opportunities for Purchase students, and they’ve been participating every summer since 2016. Students in the Advanced Digital Fabrication class taught by Raphael Zollinger, lecturer in art+design, prepared the building components during the spring 2018 semester and traveled to Detroit last summer to install them during a study away course. Assistant Professor of Art+Design Rachel Owens worked onsite with students to plan community events. Employing Theatre of the Oppressed techniques, developed by Augusto Boal in the 1970s, helped the students to develop their own artistic practices and effect change on a broader level.

Leo Hodson ’20 on His Detroit Experience

The double major in painting/drawing and art history shares how his experience in Detroit shifted his perspective on the power of art to have community impact.

Leo Hodson '20