Kay willingham is the owner of Art In Motion on Avenue de la Mode, a historic district on Avenue Livernois that has been known as a black business district for decades.
Art In Motion is one of the many famous Detroit companies that dot the street, like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, Kuzzo’s, and Simply Casual. Willingham is a ceramicist, she uses clay to create the art of pottery, and in her studio, she shows couples how to shape clay with a process called throwing.
“We were the second black family to move to the block. I was very familiar with walking the streets.
The new developments and the pandemic have threatened the livelihoods of many shops in the corridor. Willingham plans to stick with everything. She has been in business on the avenue since 2013, but has lived her entire life in the surrounding neighborhoods.
“We were the second black family to move to the neighborhood, ”she says. “I was very familiar with walking the streets: Grennel’s, Ferguson, Belle Jacobs and, of course, B. Seigels.
Shortly after the 1967 rebellion, she grew up during a time of transformation for the city. Racial tensions were high, jobs were leaving the city and shopping centers were created in the suburbs. Many white families have fled the city to work and avoid blacks. They left neighborhoods and businesses behind.
Black businesses have become a mainstay of the streets. And instead of shops, hair salons started to open. Livernois went from the avenue of fashion to the avenue of hair.
It was also around this time that Kay had her first ceramics teacher: Charles McGee, the world-renowned sculptor whose pieces are on display at the Wright Museum and Marygrove College.
“I took lessons with him when I was a kid at Gallery Seven. And that was really my inspiration to get into sculpture, ”says Willingham.
Click on the player above to find out how Kay Willingham plans to stay in business on Fashion Avenue.
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