Painting the Town: January’s Supporter of the Month is Kayj Michelle of Community Rebirth!
We at 826michigan may be best known for our love of writing and reading, but when it comes down to it we’re great admirers of all sorts of creative expression — music, design, theater, visual art, et cetera. And what we REALLY admire is people and organizations who combine creative expression with an investment in their community. That, we believe, is where “the magic” happens.
Hence our January Supporter of the Month, Kayj Michelle of Ypsilanti-based organization Community Rebirth. Community Rebirth advocates for visual artists by providing opportunities for artists to produce, display, and sell artwork at live public events like music shows, benefits, fundraisers, and festivals. If you attended Mittenfest VIII or last year’s version you probably noticed the painters working away in the corner of Woodruff’s Bar, just behind the sound booth. As musicians graced the stage with their own donated performances, painters from Community Rebirth created one-of-a-kind works of art — which they sold at silent auction, with a portion of the proceeds benefitting 826michigan’s free creative writing and tutoring programs. (We think it’s fair to say this constitutes an EXPLOSION of creative expression.)
We’re very grateful for the connection between 826michigan and Community Rebirth that has developed over the past few years (they also painted and donated to us at Detroit’s Laneway Festival this fall). The architect of this connection is the one-and-only Kayj Michelle, who you may also know from the Ugly Mug Cafe and Roastery (where she is the Event Manager!). We asked Kayj a few questions about life, art, and life and art in Ypsilanti.
How did you first hear about 826michigan and why did you want to become involved?
I lived in San Jose, CA from 2005 to 2009 and visited San Francisco often, which is where I learned about 826 Valencia and The Pirate Store. I tutored in after-school programs in San Jose with Americorps, so the mission of 826 was something I immediately got behind. When I moved back to Ypsilanti in 2009 I learned about 826michigan and later attended Mittenfest.
In 2008 I began organizing live painting at events (music shows, festivals) under the name Community Rebirth. I continued organizing under that name after I moved back to Michigan. With Community Rebirth I have plugged live painters into several events and venues in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, Mittenfest being one of them. I believe that Community Rebirth educates (or reminds) attendees of the event that the process and skill involved is visual art. In the digital rage of today, I think the value of creating paintings can be easily minimized. At large-scale events where Community Rebirth is selling artwork, it just makes sense to me to kick back a donation to a local non-profit like 826michigan which is empowering students with their own creative development. A creative outlet is very important, and facilitating a space for that, whether it be for my live painters, or for the youth writers of 826michigan. . . I want to support that however I can.
What’s your favorite part of life in Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area?
I love Ypsilanti. Ypsilanti is home to me; there’s a community here that is innovative and close-knit. There is always something fun or curious going on whether it be in Ypsi or Ann Arbor. I lean more toward spending my time and money in Ypsilanti because of the opportunity for growth there. I think there is a hunger for developing an art program in the City of Ypsilanti (such as First Fridays Ypsilanti, a monthly art walk). The capacity for a small city like Ypsi to organize and host something you would see in a major city (like First Fridays) is just a vignette of what is to come in our beloved underdog, Ypsilanti MI. Since I grew up here, I am invested in doing what I can to support the growing presence of art in the community. I am excited about the future of Ypsilanti. I see a lot of amazing people putting in good work to better the city and I truly love being a part of the future to come.
Very well said, Kayj! We’re so glad you’re doing what you do in Ypsilanti, and so glad to be part of it. Thanks very much to you and to all the painters of Community Rebirth!