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History of Cass Corridor | Arts & Entertainment

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This year, the art history of the Cass Corridor is in remembrance, especially with events opening themselves back up in a world in the process of recovering from COVID. Primarily, Cass Corridor’s art is celebrated through Wayne State’s permanent exhibit, “Cass Corridor Culture: In and Around Wayne State, 1960s-1980s.”

The permanent exhibit, located in the Undergraduate Library, was created to preserve artwork from the Cass Corridor in the 1960s when a community of artist-activists created a culture of art and expression in Midtown.

Art historian and writer Dennis Nawrocki said artists from the movement were revivalists for the neighborhood and its arts culture, creating art that was unique in design, mediums, and ideas.

“In the late 60s and 70s, I embraced and was impressed by the loose gathering of so-called Cass Corridor artists as harbingers of change,” Nawrocki said. “Now called Midtown—the shabby, derelict area was in fact the spawning ground of a new avant-garde of multidisciplinary artists, who made assemblages of found, salvaged materials and paintings of subjects that had not been essayed before.”

The movement was something new and exciting that had never quite been seen before in the way they did it, speaking to both the personal lives of individuals and reaching the larger socioeconomic and political world, according to an article by WSU art historian Dora Apel.

“If there are common factors in the diverse styles and methods of Cass Corridor artists, they include an exuberant drive toward new expression, a keen awareness of the larger artworld, and the emergence of something dark, edgy, and intense,” Apel said. “Not directly reflecting but connected in complex ways to both the personal and larger social, economic and political conditions in which these artists lived and worked.”

Wheel of Fortune (1976)

The mixed media piece “Wheel of Fortune” by Cass Corridor multimedia artist Gordon Newton, 1976.

Multimedia visualist Gordon Newton, painter Nancy Mitchnick and sculptor Robert Sestok, all three, were students at WSU during the 1960s and avid members of the Cass Corridor art movement, said WSU Art Curator Grace Serra.

“It is no accident that this counter-cultural art movement centered around Wayne State University,” Serra said.

Events such as the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement had artists creating a dynamic culture to spread messages about what they believed in, Serra said.

Nawrocki said the rise in social movements, changed the arts culture in the city.

“The times were changing among visual artists, as well as poets, writers, musicians, from traditional artifacts to new, stunning objects that reflected as well the evolving social mores headlining the new culture,” Nawrocki said.

Serra said she hopes this exhibition provides inspiration to students.

“I think this collection should be a reminder to them (WSU students) of the impact that young people can make on the world,” Serra said. “It is critical that this collection is preserved because there has been very little scholarship done on the work in this collection.”

The importance of this part of the Detroit neighborhood has not been forgotten, Serra said, the collection is there to inspire artists of younger generations to do something great in their city.

“They (WSU student artists) can see firsthand the impact that these young artists made and continue to make on the art world in Detroit and around the country,” she said. “I believe that it can give them the agency they need to impact the world too.”

Artwork from the Cass Corridor Culture art collection can be found in the Irvin D. Reid Honors College, Old Main, UGL, and the Prentis Building.

Jacob Bloom is a contributing writer for The South End. He can be reached at

Photos provided by Jacob Bloom.