About 30 people gathered in the Earl V. Moore Building on the University of Michigan’s North Campus Monday evening for a discussion-based event hosted by TEDxUofM and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance’s EXCEL Lab. The TEDxUofM Salon revolved around the theme of activism in the arts, approaching the idea with an interactive event. As opposed to the conference hosted by TEDxUofM in February, the salons are meant to be smaller and more intimate discussions.
LSA senior Allison Radman helped organize the event and gave background on the purpose of TEDxUofM.
“These salons are supposed to be more discussion-based events where we kind of bring together the community and talk about a specific topic,” Radman said.
The events are supposed to spark an interactive discussion as well as highlight interesting speakers and experiences.
“The arts as activism is … such an interesting discussion and that’s why TedxUofM is so interested in having this kind of event,” Radman said.
The event started with a TEDx video featuring artist and activist Marcus Ellsworth. Following the video, attendees split into small groups to discuss reactions and the role art plays in activism.
Melissa Coppola is the program assistant for the EXCEL Lab in the Music, Theatre & Dance School. EXCEL is a place for entrepreneurship, leadership and career services within the realm of performing arts.
“In the School of Music, Theatre & Dance the EXCEL program is relatively new,” Coppola said. “And one of the things that we do is provide funding for students with all different sorts of projects, from performance-based down to things with much greater social impact.”
Coppola hopes the EXCEL Lab can help students who are interested in both the arts and activism, but who are unsure about what that can look like.
“I think for a lot of students, it’s really hard to understand what that looks like because it can take many different forms, and today’s event I think is just kind of getting people to think about what the arts can look like when you’re trying to make a change in the community you live in,” Coppola said.
The featured speaker of the event was Deekah Rox, program director of Girls Rock Detroit and founder of the Cosmic Slop Music Festival. Rox became interested in rock music at a young age, partially inspired by her father’s love of music.
“My dad told me growing up that there’s a song for every occasion,” Rox said.
Rox opened the event by describing her childhood on the eastside of Detroit with a loving family. She described feeling from a young age as if she lived in between two worlds because of her music taste.
“It was very obvious from an early age that I was not necessarily into the same stuff that the rest of the kids in the neighborhood were into,” Rox said.
Rox remembers her music interests straying from what others thought of as stereotypically Black.
“In my headphones, the music did not necessarily reflect the environment that I lived in, stereotypically,” Rox said. “It made it very uncomfortable because I always felt like I was trying to be Black enough for my Black friends, and trying to calm down my Blackness for my white friends.”
Rox also described her experience in theater as she was young, saying it helped her learn more about performance and herself.
“It kind of helped me carve out my place, or what felt like my place, even though there were some stereotypes that were reinforced,” she said. “Because I’m a loud Black chick, so I got all the loud Black chick roles.”
Rox described her various performance experiences, as well as being part of a band. Despite these experiences, she still felt like she was in between two worlds.
“I still felt like, every time I showed up somewhere with this guitar, uncomfortable,” she said.
One of the memories she looks back on fondly is the creation of the Cosmic Slop Music Festival, a place for rock musicians of color to come together. Most of all, Rox and other Black Detroit-based rock musicians created the festival to be a safe space for all people.
“You miss that feeling of being in a room that is a safe space,” Rox said. “Microaggressions are everywhere. I just walked away from a very, very good paying job because I am not going to be able to be the token Black girl.”
She continued discussing the importance of people with privilege using their power to create safe spaces.
“What’s really important is going out of your way to make safe spaces for people who don’t have them,” she said. “So, if you are someone who has a certain level of privilege, whatever that is, you can use it to your advantage when it comes to helping someone.”
Rox concluded her talk with discussing her privileges. These include having a roof over her head and food on the table. She believes in the importance of gratitude and hopes to continue to be grateful.
“The older I get, the more I work to exist in a constant state of gratitude,” Rox said.