Jane Schulak brings international style to Detroit

I admit it. I can be wrong. Take Jane Schulak. Thought of her as a pretty face with a lot of style. Now I know she’s much more…

5 years ago, Jane decided she wanted to help Detroit move forward. She launched her research and “fell in love with the energy all over the city.” She longed to be part of it. Her hometown, she realized, was “a city of makers.” 3 years ago, she teamed up with the College for Creative Studies (CCS) and the Detroit Creative Corridor Center (DC3) to form Culture Lab Detroit–an initiative she calls “a platform for connectivity.”

Jane looks for resources with a “keen understanding” of problems Detroit faces. Issues such as “empty spaces, changing population, urban renewal and the struggle to define a new environment of collaboration and respect.”

Jane’s efforts began with planning a conference and bringing world renowned design experts to speak in Detroit. But, she decided, “It’s not enough just to have a conference. Something tangible has to happen.” She started teaming her resources with local craftsmen to create limited edition products. Collaborators have included London and NY based architect David Adjaye, Sao Paulo designers Fernando and Humberto Campana, Chicago social artist Theaster Gates and more.

Now in its 3rd year, Culture Lab’s annual conference has led to public art projects and limited edition products. Last year’s pop-up shop of objects made in Detroit and designed by famous artists sold out at Nora, a hip home accessories boutique in the Midtown district. So have other pieces at the D.I.A. Products have included a Paola Navone concrete garden planter and a Campana brothers aluminum vase.

Last fall’s conference on “Green Space” brought several hundred Detroiters to CCS to hear urban-farming pioneer Will Allen and French botanist Patrick Blanc (who invented the vertical gardens you see on walls of chic restaurants). Legendary chef Alice Waters participated via Skype, as she detoured to D.C. to receive a presidential medal of honor. (Some excuse, huh?)

Jane is no stranger to design. She has a B.A. from the U. of M. School of Art and has spent considerable time abroad. While most of us visit museums in Europe, Jane worked in one. The Louvre, no less. She was a freelance curator for the Museum of Decorative Arts, designing rooms around an object she selected from the museum’s collection.

Of the rooms she created, she says, “I’d pick an object that spoke to me. Then I’d choose a space and design it in a 21st c. way but true to the spirit of the object.” For a look at one extraordinary project, take a look at this column and photos on David Stark’s website. (Fair warning: If you’re a design aficionado, this will knock you out.) Inspired by the wallpaper collection at the Louvre, Jane worked with French paper artist Marianne Guely to create a luncheon of all paper decor.

The contacts Jane made abroad have helped her target the international talent she brings to Detroit. The Kresge Foundation partially funded her start-up. The Knight Foundation was so impressed with Jane’s results that she became their only National Grantee in Michigan in 2015. Jane admits she’s been “working very hard.” She has little overhead. “I do everyone’s job.”

The Wall Street Journal magazine profiled Jane in a recent feature, referencing the international luminaries Jane has brought on board. “Schulak has lured them all to participate in her homegrown nonprofit, which has established itself as a crucible for change in a city that’s waited too long for a taste of it.”

Jane relies on an impressive list of advisers from Detroit and around the world. They include Reed Kroloff, past director of Cranbrook Art Academy, and my friend journalist Marsha Miro (a founder of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit). To learn more about CLD, go to culturelabdetroit.org.

Jane is a grandmother to 3 young children. A godmother to dozens of talented Detroiters. And a mover and shaker behind Detroit’s renaissance. She says, “I feel humbled to be part of something much bigger and more serious than I am.”

As a diehard Motor City fan, I say thanks, Jane. And Bravo!

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