By Steve Furay
Special to the Michigan Citizen
5e Gallery in Detroit has been a mainstay in the city’s hip hop landscape since 2008. Since its opening on Michigan Avenue in Corktown, 5e has provided a welcoming creative atmosphere for the area’s large community of talented hip hop artists.
In the summer of 2010, the gallery moved down the street to its current location, 2661 Michigan, Avenue, a larger building that could better accommodate the founders’ plans for developing youth programs.
“5e Gallery is a hip hop based community arts institution that stands by the principles and values of global hip hop culture, not industry,” says co-founder Sicari Ware, best known in the city as DJ Sicari. “(We) understand that positive creative expression can be used to impact and change societal conditions for the better.”
Now, after almost three years at their new building, DJ Sicari says their future at the 2661 Michigan Avenue location is in limbo. Sicari and co-founder Piper Carter has had to struggle to raise funds to remain in their land contract for the building. Over the past two months the couple has received enough in donations to pay a $14,000 tax bill, but still face an uphill battle to keep the building. A $50,000 balloon payment comes due at the end of May, along with more necessary repair bills on the horizon.
Regardless of 5e Gallery’s future at this location, the company brand and mission of uplifting the community through hip hop culture will continue.
For much of 2011 through 2012, the gallery was closed for public events as they worked hard to get the building up to code. Now they are raising funds necessary to properly secure their place at the current location.
When operating at full strength, 5e Gallery is the city’s leading grassroots institution for representing the essence of positivity within hip hop culture — a tool for social growth and healing through artistic expression.
The gallery has struggled to keep its doors open to provide a safe haven for youth.
“In the tradition of hip hop itself, which came from social injustices, stressing the people coming together and organizing, 5e Gallery is definitely that place for the city,” says Sicari, who is also a member of the hip hop group 5 ELA.”
5e Gallery’s featured weekly event is The Foundation, a celebration of women in hip hop culture that spotlights female emcees, DJ’s and visual artists every Tuesday night. Co-host Mahogany Jones, an emcee and singer, says the gallery’s support of women is a vital ingredient to community development.
“The Foundation’s purpose aligns with the community purpose of 5e Gallery,” says Mahogany Jones, “because if we uplift and empower the women of the community, then in essence we’re really empowering the community.”
The fourth anniversary of The Foundation is scheduled for May 14 at The Tangent Gallery. The fundraising event was scheduled at this alternate location as a way to cooperate with another arts institution in the city and help both businesses grow.
“We just want to be able to continue to do that work of giving women a voice and a safe space to celebrate themselves,” says Mahogany Jones.
On May 3, at The Phoenix Cafe in Hazel Park, another fundraiser will take place featuring live music and networking for the arts community.
Been Frank, a 5e Gallery member, event promoter and visual artist, put the fundraiser together to show his support for the community goals of the space.
“5e Gallery is a social hub for artists and especially for community and the youth,” says Frank. “(It’s) a positive environment where they can uplift themselves and educate themselves, through the arts, music, visual, multimedia. I support it fully.”
Performing at The Phoenix Cafe fundraiser, May 3, will be Mahogany Jones, DJ Sicari, Sacramento Knoxx, Bryce, Valid, Coko Buttafli and more. The lineup includes artists from across the city who have greatly benefitted professionally from 5e Gallery’s presence.
Valid, an emcee and independent hip hop entrepreneur from Dearborn Heights, says when he first came to 5e Gallery, he felt as if he’d “finally found what I’d been looking for.”
“It was the place where I sharpened my sword,” he said, referring to the skill development that takes place amongst the rap artists that gather together in the space. “I had nowhere to go to compare myself to other artists.”
As 5e Gallery continues to mobilize the community to help support their efforts, DJ Sicari notes that if they are no longer able to stay in the building after the next round of upcoming negotiations, all money raised will be used to help them develop their next space. The media classes for youth, the Maker-Space program for teaching technology, the family events like the Dilla Youth Day held in February, these will all be able to be relocated to a new location.
Keeping 5e Gallery as a strong institution is important to the hundreds of artists who have participated over the years, giving the youth a home for hip hop for years to come.
“A lot of people look at 5e Gallery right now as a stepping stone,” says DJ Sicari. “We’ve got to help support this because this a rite of passage for a lot of us.”