A Poet’s Dream Comes True in Idlewild

NoVo Foundation
Feb 8, 2019 · 5 min read

Petty Propolis Hosts 1st Annual Art Festival & Artist Retreat

By Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty

Photo credit: Piper Carter & Rosemarie Wilson

The Radical Hope fund is supporting Create, Connect, Transform (CCT), a seven-partner collaborative initiative to fuel social justice, media, art, and technology innovations at Detroit’s grassroots. Over the next four years, CCT will support multiple convenings of artists and activists who are respiriting Detroit, while reimagining the world. The Petty Propolis Art Festival & Artist Retreat is a CCT convening series that kicked off in September 2018. The first annual event took place in Idlewild, MI, a historic African American vacation community in Northern Michigan that has provided sacred, reflective space for Detroit artists and activists over several decades. Tawana Petty, the festival director, looks back at the significance of the event.

Originally published in Riverwise Magazine, fall/winter 2018.

Idlewild has always been a place for Black people to escape discrimination, if only for a weekend or a summer. Decades ago, you could easily expect to see thousands of Black families enjoying their summer together in Idlewild.

You can imagine, especially under the current political climate, that I was stoked to be afforded an opportunity to bring 40, mostly Black, Detroit artists to experience what I experience whenever I have an opportunity to spend time in such an incredibly sacred place. It is a soul-growing and transformative experience each time.

The 1st Annual Petty Propolis Art Festival and Artist Retreat, sponsored by Allied Media Projects, was held in historic Idlewild, Michigan this past Labor Day weekend. As a Black artist and social justice organizer and Petty Propolis curator, I understand that I stand on shoulders of many ancestors, including W.E.B. Dubois, Madam C.J. Walker, Della Reese, Four Tops, Jackie Wilson, Etta James, and Aretha Franklin, all of whom organized in, performed in, and loved Idlewild. It was only fitting that we found ourselves watching portions of the Queen of Soul’s home-going ceremony while listening to her music on the jukebox at the Red Rooster, a Black family-owned lounge (formerly known as Rosanna’s Tavern in the 1950s).

As part of our retreat, we spent time mending fractured relationships, creating new ones and meditating in the healing lake waters. We shared our skills, knowledge, and creative experiences in a series of workshops:

● Herbs for Relaxation, Meditation, and Dreamin’

● Breaking Writer’s Block: How to Push Work Past Inspiration

● Exploring the Daily Practice: Reading Is Writing

● Make Your Poems Move

● Emergent Strategy

● Love/Hate, Balancing Relationships as Creatives

● Comedy Fusion: Working Comedy into Other Art Forms

● The Thriving Artist’s Guide To Self/Event Promotion: How To Make A Living While Controlling Your Destiny

● Identifying Yourself Through Poetry

● Theatre of the Oppressed

The Festival, held at the Robert Riffe Youth Center (formerly, the Idlewild Lot Owner’s Association), featured two days of performances for the Idlewild community by incredible artists, including: LaShaun “Phoenix” Moore, Nadine Marshall, One Single Rose, Joel “Fluent” Greene, Deidre “Dssense” Smith, Scheherazade Parrish, Devin Samuels, Lottie Spady, Mindful B, Heather Jay, Natasha “T” Miller, Danielle Carin Dunn, Yung Souja, Reg Flowers, Jamon Jordan, Nandi Comer, Jamal “Dizmantle” Stewart, Joshua Adams and Seraphine Collective (DJ collective).

In addition to all the incredible talent that graced the stage in Idlewild, Dr. Gloria House (Mama Aneb Kgositsile) led two mornings of history workshops based on her book on Idlewild, Home Sweet Sanctuary. Artists who participated in the sessions were gifted a copy of Mama Aneb’s book following the retreat.

Baba Jamon Jordan of Black Scroll Network History and Tours and Micala Evans of Historical Idlewild Tours led the artists on mesmerizing journeys through Idlewild history. Tylonn Sawyer and Sabrina Nelson live painted an incredible artistic tribute for the Idlewild community, based on a historic “Come to Idlewild” brochure, (ca. 1955 Ronald Stephens Collection), that promoted the Black resort.

adrienne maree brown provided spiritual guidance through her mini emergent strategy workshop. Piper Carter, Steven Willis, and Paula Smiley captured the essence of the gathering through photography and videography. Follow the hashtag #PettyPropolis on social media to see some of the joyful moments.

Alexis Draper and Barbara Jones assisted with the logistics, and generally keeping things moving smoothly, while Blair Evans and Susan Matous were our gracious hosts for the entire weekend.

Because of the negative impact the decades-long assault on Detroit has had on me and so many people I love, it has been a dream of mine to attend an artist retreat where I could be respirited. It has been an even bigger dream to create one for others. I could not have imagined years ago that either would happen in Idlewild.

This year, with the support from the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Fund, I was able to make both dreams come true. New collaborations were fostered. New projects were innovated. Mental, physical, and spiritual healing was realized, and we poured resources into Black-owned businesses that valued our support, like the Historic Morton’s Motel. This was especially timely, as the Idlewild community and the surrounding areas had suffered a powerful storm and massive power outages just days before our arrival. We were honored to offer our talents as a bit of relief at such an important time, in such an important place.

Look out for the 2nd Annual Petty Propolis Art Festival & Artist Retreat in Historic Idlewild next Labor Day weekend! Follow pettypropolis.org for details in the coming months.

Tawana “Honeycomb” Petty is a mother, social justice organizer, youth advocate, poet and author. She was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan and is intricately involved in water rights advocacy, visionary organizing and data justice work.

This piece is part of the NoVo Foundation’s Radical Hope Blog Series, a platform for social justice movement leaders from around the world to share learning and insights, hear what’s working and what’s not, build solidarity, and spark opportunities for collaboration. Amid daily headlines of division, this blog series is intended to serve as an active and dynamic beacon of hope, possibility, resistance, and resilience.

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Created in 2006 by Jennifer and Peter Buffett, NoVo is helping to build a more just and balanced world.

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