On the Rise (OTR) is a series of articles covering the rising artists from Detroit who were selected for The Heidelberg Project’s Emerging Artist Program.
Halley Miglietta is the second artist of the 2012 Emerging Artist Program. Her exhibition, Woven Muses, will be on display at The Heidelberg Project from June 16 - July 14, 2012. The opening reception will be held at the Heidelberg Project’s Number House (3632 Heidelberg Street, Detroit, MI 48207) from 6 – 8pm on June 16.
Common misconceptions about Detroit continue to cast a dark and ominous cloud over the City, convincing people from all over that Detroit remains the same old Detroit. We still see abandoned houses and buildings, vacant lots, and widespread poverty. And we still hear about the crime and corruption, the City’s indebtedness, and its failing public school system. Based on these painful and enduring realities, one can certainly preconceive that Detroit is in fact still the same old Detroit. But what this external view of the City does not grasp is the undeniable progress being made at the grassroots. When you engage the City from within, you see a different side of Detroit – one that defies and contradicts all hackneyed misconceptions. You see a New Detroit being rebuilt and redefined from the ground up – community by community - by the young and ambitious who find opportunity in every difficulty and who have become united by their common connection to the City and by their desire to engender change. This is reality. You can see for yourself just by traveling down Iron St., a narrow passageway linking Mt. Elliot Park to Jefferson Ave., where Halley Miglietta and some of the City’s most dynamic young artists, musicians, entrepreneurs, and intellectuals have created a vibrant and sustainable community woven together by their shared values, passions, and goals.
Surrounded by remnants of the City’s industrialized past, it is easy to mistake Iron St. as just another area of Detroit still suffering from the devastation brought on by deindustrialization. But take a closer look. Make that turn off of Jefferson. You will immediately feel the connection that the people who live and work here share – with each other, with themselves, and with the spaces around them. From the wide array of artwork covering the exterior wall of the old industrial complex that spans the length of the street to the calming and reassuring sounds of peace and tranquility coming from the River’s currents, you sense a connection here to something that transcends the routines of everyday life – a connection not just limited to Iron St., but one felt across all of Detroit at the grassroots level. It is both enthralling and inspiring. It is precisely this connection of being a part of something “bigger” that captivated Halley’s heart and imagination, and is what ultimately spurred her move to Detroit in the Fall of 2011.
Growing up in a small town in the rolling foothills of Northern California, Halley spent a lot of her time in the outdoors where she learned about the essence of connection. As famous German polymath Johann Wolfgang van Goethe once said, “In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it, and over it.” From an early age, this is exactly how Halley began to view life and the world around her. The outdoors taught her to observe and internalize the world through the lenses of nature - a lesson that has given her the faculty to see beneath the facades of everyday life. She found meaning and purpose in life. She also found connection - with others, with herself, with the spaces and places around her, and with the greater community. Nature’s vastness inspired her to explore, to experience, and to learn about the different people and places of the world for herself.
In addition to nature, Halley’s mother also had an invaluable influence on her life. Her mother was a social pillar of their small community in California who was always committed to bringing people together. She ingrained in Halley the values of community, which in turn, taught Halley to see the world through a “localized perspective” – a mindset that Halley carries with her everywhere she goes.
Photography became Halley’s way of capturing in time the different connections and experiences of her life, giving her an opportunity to observe them at a much deeper level than casual observation; it became her way of investigating the world. Halley knew she was going to need to feel connected to something larger than herself wherever she went. She just had to ride the journey of life to find that desired connection.
Halley became bereft of her parents at the age of 22. Losing her father when she was young, and then her mother in 2008, Halley decided it was time to leave California. Having already received her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from the University of California, Davis, Halley packed up and moved to Chicago to live with her brother and to attend graduate school at DePaul University, where she designed her own program of study. While pursuing her master’s degree, Halley still found time for photography. It was in Chicago where she started Men in Tubs, a photographic collection of men sitting in bathtubs with their most valued possessions. But what really elevated her passion for photography was her involvement in her brother’s grassroots education movement. His organization, the Chicago Grassroots Curriculum Taskforce, seeks to create social justice curriculum for every child in the City of Chicago. By taking part in this movement, Halley learned the importance of “having huge dreams that benefit humanity at large.” She saw how these dreams could in fact come to fruition when people with shared values and passions unite in a strategic and organized manner. This made her truly believe in the notion of collective change. Photography became her way of capturing the connections that make such change possible.
Halley’s experience in Chicago helped her grow and develop as an individual. She was able to learn so much about herself and her “greater purpose in this life.” Through her involvement with her brother’s organization, she could see how change is possible when people work together. However, Chicago soon proved to not be the right place for her. She had difficulty connecting with the city and its people; she could not find her place or role in the larger picture. And for Halley, where there is no connection, there is no inspiration for art or photography, so her Men in Tubs project hit a standstill. In addition, she was becoming increasingly frustrated with the University that she thought may have been suppressing her life visions and stunting her growth as an individual. Halley needed to get away. She felt stuck and disconnected. She needed a new experience. So in July 2011, Halley headed to the train station and purchased a ticket for the next outbound train. Her next stop: Detroit.
“A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.” – John Lennon
When Halley arrived in Detroit last July for the first time, she immediately felt the connection that had eluded her in Chicago. She became mesmerized by everything about Detroit. From its gripping history and inimitable urban landscape, to the diversity of its people, Halley sensed a connection here that far exceeded the conventions of life in Chicago. She was hooked. She got a chance to interact with so many different people, and became incredibly inspired by the role of art in the City’s ongoing transformation. Within a few days, she could already feel the unique dynamic unfolding in Detroit: a city being reconstructed from the ground up by the collective efforts of its people. She saw people here who believed in each other and in their City.
In Detroit, Halley saw the workings of a community – something she truly wanted to be a part of. It was a connection she could not find in Chicago and one that made her believe in something far greater than herself. After returning to Chicago from her initial trip to Detroit, she dropped out of her master’s program nearly halfway from completion, and officially moved to Detroit in October 2011. She now lives in a loft on Iron St., where she is pursuing her passion for photography and the ancient healing art of massage and bodywork. Every Thursday at 10am and Sunday at 12pm, she hosts Yoga Schmoga, a free yoga class held in Mt. Elliot Park for the people. Down on Iron St., Halley is living among some of the City’s most talented creators and intellectuals, who are all working together – through their passions, ambitions, and creations – to redefine Detroit.
Halley did not have to look far to find inspiration in the City. She instantly became intrigued by how the people in Detroit interacted with the places and spaces around them – how they were using the remnants of the City’s old industrial order to create a new society. Feeling the need to capture this synergy, Halley resumed working on her Men in Tubs project she started while living in Chicago. It is a collection that speaks loudly to the importance of connection – a common message and theme found in all of her work.
Using mostly disposable cameras because of the disconnect or barrier that she feels a typical SLR camera creates between her and her subjects, Halley is able to build an indelible connection with everything she captures. She finds beauty in everything, even in the most daunting and inhospitable places like the Packard Plant. With her exceptional editing skills, she can bring out the beauty she finds in these intimidating places, making them actually appear warm and inviting to her viewers.
Photography has become Halley’s way of testing her preconceptions against experience. She often finds the two at odds with one another, but this allows her to learn from experience, giving her even more reason to continue photographing the world around her. Not only does photography offer her an opportunity to engage the people and places she captures on a much deeper and personal level, but it has also “heightened her understanding of the intricacies and diversities that make up this wild and incredible journey called life.”
Halley will be the first artist of the Emerging Artist program to have her work on display at the Number House on Heidelberg Street. Her exhibition, entitled Woven Muses, consists of two collections, and will be presented from June 16 – July 14, 2012. In addition to Men in Tubs, Halley will also display her latest collection – a tribute to the powerful and supportive community on Iron St. For this project, Halley distributed six disposable cameras to six different artists living there, requiring each one to capture Iron St. in his/her own perspective. She wants to provide her viewers with an opportunity to see the budding community through multiple perspectives. This gives her viewers a chance to truly observe and understand the indissoluble connections that the people who live and work here share – with themselves, with each other, and with the spaces around them. As Halley asserts, “It is the collaborative perspective that makes Iron St. so powerful.” On Iron St., teamwork is making the dream work. By capturing the different people and places she experiences, Halley is showing her viewers what Detroit looks like from within, where people are actually working together throughout the grassroots to rebuild and redefine Detroit, community by community, while also pursuing their individual dreams and passions. For Halley, this is what life is all about.
Detroit is a city on the rise. If you continue to rely on your assumptions and misconceptions about the City, you will completely overlook the changes happening on the ground. You will not see the connections and commitments that the people who live here have to each other and to their City. When Halley decided to leave Chicago, she did not let her preconceptions of Detroit prevent her from experiencing it. She gave Detroit a chance; she wanted to see and experience it through her own eyes just like her connection with nature taught her to. It became one of the best decisions she has ever made. Just like so many others, Halley found connection here – to herself, to the people, to the community, and to the City’s overall revival. And it is through these interwoven connections that a New Detroit is emerging – one that is being rebuilt at the grassroots by the young and ambitious who have all put Detroit in their dreams. But you have to seek it out for yourself; only then, when you engage the City from within, will you be able to observe and comprehend what is really happening here. You just have to give Detroit a chance. You will never know what is truly down that ostensibly intimidating passageway unless you make the turn. For Halley, it has been life-changing.