Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan commemorated International Artist Day this week with an announcement of the inaugural Detroit ACE Honors, which salute achievement by artists and arts patrons who have contributed more than 25 years of service to the Detroit arts and culture scene.
A ceremony, to be held in January, will present each honoree with a Detroit ACE medal of excellence. The event will also unveil the members of the Detroit Council of the Arts, who will choose recipients in subsequent years.
The first Detroit ACE Medal recipients, announced Monday, are:
- Elizabeth (Betty) Brooks, board member of the Detroit Historical Society, Motown Museum, Detroit Jazz Festival, Detroit Institute of Arts, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Michigan Opera Theatre. Brooks chaired the 150th anniversary celebration for the Detroit Public Library and the second annual Eastern Market Harvest Celebration, and is an appointed member of the Board of Police Commissioners for the City of Detroit.
- David DiChiera, founder of Michigan Opera Theatre and former president of Opera America. The late DiChiera was the critically acclaimed composer of “Four Sonnets” (premiered at the Kennedy Center) and “Cyrano” (premiered at the Detroit Opera House, later presented by the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Florida Grand Opera). He was also a 2013 Kresge Eminent Artist and recipient of the Opera Honors Award by the National Endowment for the Arts, the nation’s highest award for lifetime achievement in opera.
- Robert S. Duncanson, a prolific painter known for sweeping, large-scale landscapes. He established a studio in Detroit in 1849, where he would become the most accomplished African American painter of the 1850s and 1860s. A collection of Duncanson’s work hangs in the Detroit Institute of Arts. He is considered to be the first African American artist to gain international recognition and has been proclaimed by American media as “the best landscape painter in the West.”
- LeRoy Foster, fine portrait painter and muralist known for public commissions, including “The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass” for the Frederick Douglass Branch of the Detroit Public Library, “Kaleidoscope” for the lobby of Southwest Detroit Hospital and “Renaissance City” for the old Cass Technical High School Building. Foster was a graduate of Cass Tech, the Detroit Society of Arts and Crafts School (now the College of Creative Studies), L’Academie de la Grand Chaumeire in Paris and Heatherly School of Art in London. In 1958, he co-founded the Contemporary Studio with Charles McGee, Harold Neal and Henri Umbaji King.
- Tyree Guyton, neo-expressionist artist, 2009 Kresge Artist Fellow and creator of the internationally renowned Heidelberg Project. Guyton studied at the College for Creative Studies and was awarded an honorary doctorate of fine art. He has been featured at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art and the Studio Museum of Harlem as well as in the Emmy Award-winning documentary “Come Unto Me: The Faces of Tyree Guyton.”
- Vera Heidelberg, co-chair of the first Classical Roots Celebration, an annual concert sponsored by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra recognizing African American contributions to classical music. Heidelberg is a graduate of the Detroit Institute of Technology and Wayne State University. She is a member of the Greater Wayne County Chapter of the Links and has served as chairwoman of the Women’s Committee of the United Negro College Fund.
- Artis Lane, portrait artist and sculptor known for works featuring President John F. Kennedy, Frank Sinatra, Henry Kissinger, Barbara Bush, Rosa Parks, Michael Jordan and Aretha Franklin. Lane was the first woman to be admitted to the prestigious Cranbrook Art Academy. She has been recipient of the Women of Excellence Award by the Museum of African American Art in Los Angeles and the Women for Women Award from the Martin Luther King, Jr. General Hospital Foundation.
- Charles McGee, prolific painter and sculptor with work featured at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney Museum of American Art. McGee, who died in February, was founder of the Contemporary Art Institute of Detroit and the first Kresge Eminent Artist in 2008. Over the years, he also advised the State of Michigan, City of Detroit and numerous local arts institutions on cultural initiatives.
- Carlos Nielbock, master architectural ornamental metal and design artist, engineer and craftsman, whose work was featured in the Fox Theater restoration. Inventor of the Detroit Windmill, the first and only fully upcycled, low-level wind turbine, Nielbock is a UNESCO Detroit City of Design Ambassador and Honorary Member of the American Institute of Architects. He is also founder of C.A.N. Art Handworks, an ornamental architectural metals handcrafting studio on Detroit’s east side.
- Dudley Randall, the City of Detroit’s first poet laureate. Randall was founder of Broadside Press and was once called “the Father of the Black Poetry Movement” by Black Enterprise Magazine. In addition, he was the author of “A Litany of Friends: New and Selected Poems” and “More to Remember: Poems of Four Decades,” as well as editor of “The Black Poets and For Malcom: Poems on the Life and Death of Malcolm X.”
- Gretchen Valade, philanthropist and leading patron of numerous Detroit arts institutions, including the Detroit Jazz Festival and Wayne State University’s jazz program. She is the founder of Grammy Award-winning Mack Avenue Records and the Gretchen C. Valade Endowment for the Arts. Valade is also chairwoman of Carhartt Inc. and owner of Grosse Pointe Farms’ Dirty Dog Jazz Café and Morning Glory Coffee.
- Marilyn Wheaton, longtime director of the City of Detroit’s Cultural Affairs Department, Concerned Citizens for the Arts in Michigan and the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum on the Saginaw Valley State University campus. Wheaton helped orchestrate art for the Detroit Tricentennial Celebration, including the International Memorial to the Underground Railroad on the Detroit riverfront. Throughout her career before retiring in 2018, she worked to make Detroit a cultural destination through raising funds for art programs in the city.
- Debra White-Hunt, co-founder and artistic director of the Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy. White-Hunt has choreographed more than 50 ballets and directed more than 100 dance concerts. A 2020 Kresge Arts Fellow, she has been commissioned to create works for stage, television, and film and is recipient of numerous local and national awards for her excellence in arts and education.
- Shirley Woodson, a painter known for large-scale figurative work featured in the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The longtime Detroit Public Schools teacher and supervisor of fine arts was Kresge’s 2021 Eminent Artist. She is also co-founder of the Michigan Chapter of the National Conference of Artists, the longest-running national arts organization dedicated to nurturing, developing, and promoting opportunities for Black visual artists.
An award will also be presented to the Kresge Foundation, which since 2008 has awarded more than $6.7 million through Kresge Arts in Detroit’s Kresge Eminent Artist Awards, Kresge Artist Fellowships and Gilda Awards. Kresge has also sustained the City of Detroit’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship (ACE) through its first two years.
Detroit ACE director Rochelle Riley told the Free Press, “As the mayor said, it is past time for us to honor the iconic genius that we have in this city. We have created amazing artists, and they are heralded around the country. I want us to embrace them at home the way they’re embraced elsewhere.”