The Big B Liquor Party Store, which holds down the northeast corner of the intersection of Trumbull Ave and the I-94 freeway in Detroit’s Woodbridge neighborhood, has taken on a different character of late. The third-story windows on the eastern facade, once boarded up, now display a series of recognizable figures. It’s a collection of Detroit-born poets and publishers, the second cohort of figures in artist Nicole Macdonald’s “Detroit Portrait Series”–an ongoing public art project.
Macdonald’s intention is “to tell the history of Detroit from the ground up, honoring leaders and everyday heroes from the city’s past and present through large-scale portraiture,” and using completed panels to board up windows in abandoned buildings throughout the city. The series at the Big B features activist writers and minority publishers from Detroit: Robert Hayden, the first African-American to be named poet laureate of the United States; Sixto Rodriguez, musician and subject of the 2012 breakout hit documentary, Searching for Sugar Man; Terry Blackhawk, poet and founder of the InsideOut Literary Arts Project; and others. This series was first installed in the main shed of the Detroit Eastern Market last summer, accompanied by a series of readings and workshops, and its permanent installation at the Big B coincides with an exhibition featuring Macdonald’s latest series, which features cultural activists and entertainment legends of Detroit’s Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhood.
Image by Daniel Isley.