Hamtown Movers and Shakers… Steve Hughes

By Mike Murphy

Steve Hughes and his wife, artist Anne Harrington Hughes, have lived in Hamtramck since 1995. He is a partner in Hughes and Lynn Building and Renovation.

He is also the publisher of Stupor, which is sold at many stores that offer small press magazines such as Printed Matter in New York, and Leopold’s in Detroit. This winter, Hughes spearheaded the effort to open the Public Pool art space in Hamtramck.

Public Pool is currently showing Nocturnal Translations, a show in which artists explore the dreams of eight Detroit writers, thinkers and entrepreneurs. Hours of Public Pool are 6 to 9 p.m. on Fridays and 1 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays. The art space is located at 3309 Caniff. Read the dreams at publicpool.weebly.com. Public Pool can also be found on Facebook.

What is your background in the arts?

This past fall, I had the opportunity to co-curate a group show at Design 99. That was with local artist Nina Bianchi. The show was about copy machines and art made on copy machines. About six months before that, Design 99 presented a show about my magazine, Stupor.

The show was titled A Retrospective of Bad Ideas. It was a chance for me to collect and display some of the original artwork from the magazine. The show also included work by some of the artists that had contributed to its publication.

Before Design 99, I lived and worked here in Hamtramck, collecting stories for my magazine and going to see art shows. Years previous, in the early 1990s I got a Masters in Fine Arts in writing at the University of New Orleans.

As a writer, how do you contribute to the gallery? How is writing incorporated into shows at Public Pool?

I’m real interested in collaborating with artists. I like the idea of interacting through our different mediums: mine as writer, and theirs as artists. So, like with my magazine, Stupor, artists Nina Bianchi and Faina Lerman are both working on issues right now.

I wrote the text and then give them full artistic control over the layout. I can’t wait to see what they come up with. As a writer, I bring this idea to Public Pool: that collaboration between artists and writers is fascinating. In many ways, our current show is about writing.

We asked eight locals to journal their dreams. We then gave these dreams to artists and asked them to use them as a springboard for their work, or in other words, to create a visual translation of the written work.

The results are amazing. The artwork informs us about the writing and at the same time, the writing informs us about the art. It’s a smart show. Come out and see Elliott Earl’s artwork titled Because I’m Not Polish.

Why did you choose to locate in Hamtramck?

I have to say thank you to Mitch and Gina of Design 99 because really they started the ball rolling here. In many ways, what they were doing at their storefront space reinvigorated the art scene in Hamtramck. Their space became a hub, a place where I met a lot of artists in the community. So when they closed D99, I was disappointed and wanted very much to keep it rolling.

Since my experience with the Photocopy show and Stupor show, I already had an idea of how I might want to run the place, and I had ideas about other shows I’d like to do. I started talking to people and trying to get them involved to share the expense and the workload. One night eating a pizza in my kitchen with my good friends Mary Trybus and Jim Boyle, things started to come together. Also, Dave and Ellen Puls were very kind and supportive (they own the building). Public Pool would not have happened without their support and patience.

Is there anything significant behind the name Public Pool?

Public: The space is open to the public. It’s a place where the community can view art on many different levels.

Pool: It’s a cooperative. Members of the cooperative are pooling their talents, labor, and finances to make this happen

Public Pool: It’s true, there’s no real water here. Not even a bathtub. Still it seemed like Hamtramck could benefit from a Public Pool.

What would you like Public Pool to represent to both the community of Hamtramck and the community of artists in the area?

Public Pool wants to bring more art and more talented people to Hamtramck. Public Pool wants to become a hub for the arts. Public Pool wants people to know that art makes our community more vibrant and alive. Public Pool wants to see artists continue snatch up these cheap houses and move to Hamtramck. Public Pool wants people to see that Hamtramck and Detroit are great places to live.

The ground here is incredibly fertile. Check it out: There’s a house for sale on Trowbridge between Gallagher and Jos. Campau. It’s $10,000. Just saw it on Trulia.com. What a steal.

So I hope people will come out to Public Pool, see the great stuff happening here, and say, ‘damn! This is one badass town.’ I’m going buy one of these super cheap houses and put in a new bathroom and a new kitchen and make it just how I want it, and it’s still going to be cheaper than buying north of 8 mile.

Low expenses means you can afford to work as an artist or a writer or you can run an art gallery or maybe open a movie theater.

Who else is involved in the gallery and in what ways do they contribute?

Toby Barlow, Mary Trybus, Jim Boyle, Anne Harrington Hughes, Jessie Doan, Tim Hailey. They all pitch in. We throw our ideas around, bouncing and sometimes smashing them off one another. Everyone is involved and helps in one way or another. We also all take turns staffing the space.

What kinds of shows, in terms of variety, can the community expect to see at Public Pool?

On June 12, we’ve got a reading scheduled and a mini-opera composed by James Cornish. When was the last time that an opera was performed in Hamtown?

In July, we have a solo show from artist Jon Brumit, who owns a house in the neighborhood just north of Hamtramck.

What else?

More special events coordinated to fit with each show.

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