Paige Pfleger: Dally in the Alley upcycles art

By Paige Pfleger, Daily Detroit Arts Columnist
Published September 9, 2014

Dally in the Alley is like the laid-back love child of the Ann Arbor Summer Art Fair and Sonic Lunch. Artists, musicians and vendors line the streets of the Cass Corridor in Detroit, winding between alleyways and behind apartment complexes. Twinkle lights are strung between buildings and across parking lots, dangling over soundstages and hand painted signs that read “whatupdoe? Dally 2014,” appropriately adorned with rainbows.

The event draws an eclectic crowd, from the local Detroit hipsters to frat bros from Michigan State. The performers and artists that make the event what it is, however, have one thing in common: They create art that fosters community in the city, and promotes Detroit for what it really is — a kick-ass creative commons accessible to everyone.

“Dally has always been one of my favorite events,” Najah Neimah, a Detroit resident and University alumna said. “The neighborhood comes together, there’s good music, great vendors, and amazing food. I love the pierogis,” she added with a laugh, “Gotta’ go get some.”

This is Neimah’s seventh time at Dally, but this year is different. Instead of walking the rows of vendors, she stands beneath a white tent amongst racks of vintage clothing. She’s selling her line of hand-picked clothes for her business, Norah’s Vintage.

Amongst the lineup of Dally vendors, there were more vintage stores and some clothing vendors with a twist: print shops that screen-print Detroit-centric designs on T-shirts. Detroit-based SMPLFYD carries stores throughout Detroit and even the U.S., like City Bird, owned by a University grad, or Signal Return in Eastern Market.

“We are really able to get ourself out there to crowds that normally wouldn’t see us,” Justin Fishaw, co-owner of SMPLFYD said. “It’s a very collective, eclectic crowd. That guy has one of our shirts on,” he said, pointing at a man walking by in a Tiger t-shirt with the word DETROIT stamped on the front.

Snap-back hats that read “Detroit Players” and a shirt that shows off The Supremes, one of Motown's legends, hang from the tent walls. He swats at a few bees that are buzzing around him — an infestation that is pretty common for Dally. He was stung twice last year.

A lot of Dally artists use something less conventional than clothing as their canvas, like Kyle Dubay, who makes home-décor out of reclaimed wood found across the city for his business, Woodward Throwbacks. The table is scattered with burnt wood coasters, or placards that stamped with “Motown,” “8 Mile” and more. Under the table are wooden six pack carriers, equipped with a handle and a bottle opener on the side.

“They’re all a little bit different,” Dubay said to a customer eyeing the carriers. “Even the handles, some of them are broom handles, some of them are pieces of railings.” Though the products vary, Dubay picked each out of dumping sites or out of the streets of Detroit.

Aubrey Smythe and his wife, Elena, take found objects from the city and repurpose them into something new, whether it be jewelry or a collaborative painting. The Smythe’s business, Armageddon Beachparty & Co., matches the vibe they give off — bohemian style vests, dreads laced with beads, and necklaces of wrapped copper wire.

“Everything we paint on is from the streets of Detroit in an attempt to clean up the city,” Smythe said.

Not surprisingly, found object art is a popular trend in the city and at Dally. With Detroit’s historical buildings and neighborhoods, a pile of bricks or broken glass could be considered relics of a different time. That’s part of what makes the current art communities in Detroit so innovative — they are building upon what most would consider torn down, taking objects and inspiration from the ashes and arising to create the Detroit that stands today.