Acts of Urbanism Explores the Power of Art and Culture to Transform Cities and Equitable Development

Acts of Urbanism (AOU)/Entre Actes D’urbanisme is a five-day experimental performing arts and design festival in Detroit, from June 6-10, 2022. The Franco-American collaboration organizes place-based opportunities throughout Banglatown, Detroit, for artists, residents, activists, and scholars to exchange ideas to position arts and culture as a core component of equitable community planning and development. 

By bringing together local and international expertise in performance, dance, theater, music, architecture, and urban design, participants explore how creative action can expose individuals and organizations to innovative modes of expression. Through a combination of public forums, workshops, and performances, organizers aim to advance and expand a set of tools to understand cities and the forces that shape them.

Anya Sirota, associate dean for academic initiatives and associate professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College, is one of the event’s organizers. She explained, “Art and culture have always been an integral part of communities. Acts of Urbanism critically explores its instrumentalization in community planning, development, and the transformation of cities.” 

Delivered in the format of a weeklong program sited across architecture and landscapes in Banglatown, experimental performances, conversations, and workshops cast a fresh look at ways artists and activists are reimagining cultural infrastructure and equitable development in under-resourced urban contexts. 

Residents, students, faculty, artists, and scholars work together to create installations, participate in workshops, and take part in informal programming designed to spark discussions around the arts and citycraft. Specifically, the program will consider the relationship between performance and urban design, posing the questions: Can performance generate a more nuanced understanding of cities and neighborhoods? Can creative practices generate novel, inclusive methods for the activation of public space? Can artists appropriate and reinterpret spatial scenarios, influencing the future of the public realm? How can creative practices shed light on the structures of inequity that shape cities and their communities?

“Equitable development is only possible when artists work side by side with planners, developers, and public officials to think differently and imagine solutions that meet a broad range of community needs, sustain public interest, and support participatory democracy,” says Sirota. “Acts of Urbanism, equal parts cultural experiment and public forum, invites participants to learn from each other, and to learn by doing.”

“A total of about 20 cultural partners traveled from France to participate in the experimental activities and discussions,” says Sirota. “Many U-M Taubman College faculty and fellows will also participate in the festival including Maria Arquero de Alarcon, Robert Fishman, Cyrus Penarroyo, McLain Clutter, and Torri Smith, in addition to U-M students and Detroit-based artists.”

The first three days are structured around short-format panel conversations to connect researchers, artists, and curators around broad contextual topics: Land, Water, and Cultural Infrastructure. The last two days will feature experimental collaborative performances.

Founded in 2020, AOU is a Franco-American collaboration, which brings together the University of Michigan and U-M Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning with French research institutions including the Université Grenoble Alpes, le laboratoire PACTE, la Cité du design – Saint-Etienne, Le Pacifique – CDCN Grenoble Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes, Akoaki – Detroit. Programming is produced in collaboration with the French Embassy in Chicago, the Institut Français, with support from the FACE Foundation (Transitioning to Virtual Exchange Fund). 

Residents are invited to attend most events. For more information, see the event brochure

Day 01: LAND – Monday, June 6

Who owns Detroit? What are the challenges and possibilities of land ownership and stewardship in Detroit? What role does city planning play?

Day 02: WATER – Tuesday, June 7

What legacy conditions set the stage for contemporary access and water management challenges in Detroit? How has climate change and environmental degradation of Southeast Michigan wetlands impacted water systems?

Day 03: CULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURE – Wednesday, June 8

How has rapid expansion of infrastructure followed by mass-scale depopulation within city limits created challenges for the management of infrastructure? Is cultural infrastructure a fundamental right?

Day 04: ARTIST PREPARATION – Thursday, June 9

Open day where artists and urbanists can prepare individual or collaborative projects, talks, and/or performances.

Day 05: PERFORMANCE – Friday, June 10

Public events will be announced June 6-8, 2022. Please follow the schedule on or the event brochure.

Institut Francais