Acclaimed artist Carrie Mae Weems will be instructing 10 young Detroit-area artists over the course of the next year as part of the Independent Scholars Fellowship program organized by the Carr Center.

Acclaimed artist Carrie Mae Weems will be instructing 10 young Detroit-area artists over the course of the next year as part of the Independent Scholars Fellowship program organized by the Carr Center.

Photo provided by Jo Lewis

Carr Center kicks off new program for young artists

By: Brendan Losinski | Advertiser Times | Published August 30, 2018

DETROIT — The Carr Center in Detroit is beginning a new program that allows young artists the opportunity to work with highly recognized artists to grow their skills and promote their work.

The Carr Center is the performance center arm of the Arts League of Michigan, a nonprofit that presents, promotes and develops African-American art, artists and artistic traditions.

The new program is called the Independent Scholars Fellowship. In its first year, 10 students will work with a professional artist over the course of a year to make new creations and then display them for the public when it concludes.

“The goal of the program is to give early career artists, especially early career artists of color, the chance to work with artists who are nationally renowned,” said Carr Center curator and Senior Creative Director Erin Falker. “There also is the opportunity to get your art displayed or to be discovered by others. We really want to foster the concept of mentorship by people who have been where they have been.”

The highlight of the program this year will be giving young artists the opportunity to work with Carrie Mae Weems, an internationally renowned artist.

“She started off in photography but also is known for her installation and video work,” said Falker. “A lot of her work deals with the African-American experience, race, sexuality and gender. She also creates poetry that she writes in tandem with some of her work.”

The Carr Center believes that Weems will create a one-of-a-kind experience for a select group of 10 students from diverse disciplines and backgrounds.

“When you bring an artist of the stature of a MacArthur Genius Fellow into a community, and you have the opportunity to be immersed with that person, you have a unique opportunity,” said Carr Center CEO Oliver Ragsdale Jr. “That’s what we want to achieve here. We are very process- and development-focused rather than focusing on the end result, so we think the creative process is more important than the exhibition we will be having months from now.”

Ragsdale said he sees this as a means of encouraging local art to grow in ways that might not otherwise be possible.

“I want to see this program lead to the development of early career artists of color and the mentorship opportunity that represents,” he said. “I think as we look at the diversity of Detroit, we want to make sure world-class artists of all kinds are participating in our community and offering opportunities.”

Falker said the Independent Scholars Fellowship helps solve an obstacle often found by up-and-coming artists.

“I’m an artist myself, and I find there are opportunities for artists who are starting out or who are well-established, but there is a hole in the middle for those established but early in their career,” she said. “We want to give an opportunity to launch others into the next phase of whatever they’re doing.”

The program will begin Nov. 1 and will continue through fall of 2019. It will conclude with an exhibition of the students’ work and the publication of a book documenting the finished art pieces and the creative process.

“What’s interesting about the program is it’s our inaugural year,” Falker said. “The way Ms. Weems works is to meet her students, talk to them about their interests and develop their projects based on that. She will provide them with guidance and help them develop their projects as a group and then display the finished projects. Depending on who the teacher is next year, they could develop a totally different structure for our program next year.”

The program is open to any artist and there is no registration fee.

“The students are submitting an online application, which includes visuals or written samples. Staff members at the Carr Center act as a jury, and Carrie Mae Weems also gets input on who she wants to work with,” said Falker. “There’s no way to describe the perfect candidate, but our goal is to provide an opportunity for those who might not have an opportunity elsewhere.”

The deadline to apply is Sept. 29. Those interested can go to for information about the Independent Scholars Fellowship and how to apply.

Carr Center officials said they fully intend to bring the Independent Scholars Fellowship back in subsequent years, but Falker said they are going to be paying close attention to what aspects of the program work during its inaugural year, and which do not.

“This is our first year,” said Falker. “We don’t like to call it a pilot program because we definitely plan on doing it again. We are going to talk with the students a lot this year to assess what adjustments we may want to make next year. … We are currently looking for an artist of the caliber of Ms. Weems who can be the instructor next year.”

Those organizing the Independent Scholars Fellowship believe this new program will be a significant boon to the local art community.

“This is an exciting new opportunity for both the artist and for the community to be engaged with this world-class artist that we are proud and delighted to bring to Detroit,” Ragsdale said. “I’m personally very eager to see what happens.”