Live Coal: Bringing the spark for artists and neighborhoods

Source: Michigan News

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Stanley Larry was just 12 when he met his mentor Yvette Rock, a University of Michigan alumna and Detroit artist, through an art program.

At 22, he picked up a camera for the first time, thanks to the encouragement of Rock.

“The world looked different when I picked up the camera. It gave me the opportunity to freeze moments,” said Larry, who at 33 is now a professional photographer specializing in events and portraits. 

Stanley Larry, a professional photographer. Credit: Rebecca Cook, Michigan Photography.

Larry credits Rock and her husband for playing such a big role in his life. He is currently documenting his work on the Detroit rePatched project for Rock’s Live Coal, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to transform lives and neighborhoods through art, community development and education. 

“Being part of this allows me to understand the importance of art and showing what I see through my lens. So that’s one of the reasons I became a photographer … being able to express myself, being able to show what I like, what I don’t like and what I want to see,” Larry said.

The Detroit rePatched project is a two-year effort by Live Coal to bring art to Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood. It is funded by the Knight Arts Challenge.

Rock’s empathetic approach has had that effect on scores of people in the community through her many initiatives connected to art.

Yvette Rock. Credit Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

“I started thinking about what it would mean for Yvette Rock to be a ‘live coal,'” she said. “What would it mean for me to be someone in the city of Detroit who helps set these things in motion, this artistic venture in motion, you know, like being a spark in the city, causing others to be excited about art?”

Rock’s work through the nonprofit Live Coal includes:

  • Live Coal Arts Mobile: An 18-foot traveling gallery and workshop space
  • Live Coal Collective: A biennially selected group of artists and creatives who develop personal, collaborative and community-based works that support the mission
  • Live Coal Gallery: An exhibition space for artists and creatives
  • The RED: A children’s museum featuring a permanent collection of their art
  • Detroit rePatched: An arts-infused green space and arts hub in Detroit’s Brightmoor neighborhood
  • School programs: Live Coal conducts artist-in-residence programs, including one at The School at Marygrove

Rock, who earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in painting from U-M in 1999, says she particularly wants to take children under her wing because she knows they’ll be steered away from the arts as they get older. Her Live Coal Gallery in Detroit is a safe place for young artists to create and express their artistry to the world—and has had an impact on more than a thousand students.

Lia Benning. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

Lia Benning, an 11th grader at Marygrove, said she found Rock’s humble approach inspiring. 

“I thought what she said was very important and inspirational because I feel like for people who aren’t artists, they might not see art as important or life changing as like other professions,” she said. “I think she wants to let us know that art is a tool that can be used in many different ways. Doing art for me is kind of like a way of relieving stress.

And I feel like it also makes me feel creative and important because I feel like it is so nice to like, see something come to life after, like working on it.”

While at U-M, Rock conceived Detroit Connections, a program that connects U-M students, staff and faculty with Detroit schools and continues today.

Chandrika Williams. Credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

Chandrika Williams, a ninth grade literature teacher at the School at Marygrove who also teaches an elective course on art and activism, has had Rock in her classroom this semester to work with students on different aspects of art. 

Students focused on self portraits, and Rock gave them the tools with art supplies and wooden figures plus encouragement. She showed a video of an artist who had created a George Floyd mural that has gotten a lot of exposure.

“Yvette Rock brings authenticity to this course because her experiences are authentic,” Williams said. “I think that when they see that if something doesn’t go right, whether it’s in art or in life, they have the power and the capacity to go back and look at it and blur the lines a little bit and try again. You have the opportunity in life and in art to try again and to revise and to perfect and to just to just create.”

And professional artists have found spending time with Rock has been just as transformational.

The Live Coal Collective brings a wide range of artistic talent together. Credit: Rebecca Cook, Michigan Photography.

M. Saffell Gardner, a master painter, mixed media artist, art historian and educator, credits Rock with getting him “out of the studio. People don’t know what you’re doing in the studio.” He said they met in 2009 when she invited him to be in a show. Getting to work with other artists curated by Rock gave him some really valuable insight. 

“It kind of helps me grow some of the ideas I’ve had,” said Gardner, who has done murals with kids and next wants to teach them sculpture techniques. “With Live Coal being in the neighborhoods, this brings the community in without being sponsored by the government. People can be empowered to know they can make art, be more creative and more humane. They really help me look to the future as an artist.”


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