top of page
  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin



“You were born an original.  Don’t die a copy.”  – John Mason

My Dad’s drawings filled his studio.

I have never been without art. I have been surrounded by beautiful designs and sounds. Everything I touch and buy has been designed to please me. Most of my life will be lived within an environment designed by others. How my sight lines are broken and varied has been thought out by someone that I don’t know. I can only hope that they have had some art  in their background. I was lucky to grow up in Detroit. Detroit has had a rich history of good  design. It was to be one half of a spoke wheel. It has a center and it has ways to get to the center. It also has a large part of its boundary on a constantly changing river. I have lived in a city that has great art institutions and until recently it has had a good arts program for its children.


Antoine had Paris in mind when he made his plan for Detroit, which was our good luck.

Cadillac was in many ways a scoundrel. He made up his name to conceal his past. He was best known for selling booze to the Indians. On the plus side he did have an adventurous spirit and a sense of art which seems to have lasted in our imperfect city. He was so Detroit.


For the last few years creative types have been streaming into a vibrant Detroit.  At the very same time we have been shedding music and art programs in Detroit schools. This does not bode well for Detroit. Detroit is a city that still has a lot of planning to do. We will need art/design. It will all start with our children having more paintbrushes, musical instruments, paid instructors and exposure to the arts in their lives.

“Creativity takes courage.”  Henri Matisse

Having art in our lives is often undervalued. The beauty, tranquility, excitement, color, sounds, design and accessibility of the world around us is a result of the sensibilities of those who we put in charge. As we walk through our town we travel in a sea of good design or uninspiring sameness. For some of us this doesn’t matter as we are just passing through.  For those who wake up every day in the same place, design of the place is important.

“Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun.”  – Mary Lou Cook

Music and art will always be hanging around, waiting to pick up the pieces when everything else starts to crumble. Jazz rose to life out of the voices of those who were unheard. When everything else is taken away from us, we will still have jazz. Jazz like all arts is the free expression of possibilities. It gives us a chance to succeed without asking us to change. A lot of children could sure use some of this.

The importance of art and jazz in our community.

I have always been interested in the influence of the arts on society and the influence of society on the arts. Intertwined in all of this is how education is often affected by the arts and how the arts are dependent on education. The children who most could benefit from arts programs in their schools are often the first to lose art and music programs.

I became an advocate for continuing arts programs in the schools when four young teenagers appeared at my open studio door at Detroit’s Scarab Club. It turned out that they were killing time before reading their poetry at a Harlem Renaissance celebration at the Wright Museum just down the street. I asked them to come in, and for the next half hour they talked to me and to each other about how the writing arts changed the direction of their lives.

Somewhere in the middle of our discussion they discovered that they shared the same feeling of hopelessness in their young lives. Most days they had seen  little chance of success and had gotten little encouragement. They began starting each morning writing. They found that they could create their own world as they saw fit, control the endings to their stories, and no one could tell them that they were wrong. In art success is only defined by the artist. That is what makes it art.

They all have gone on to share their writing and seemed to have confidence in their futures. I sat and listened and was deeply affected by their spontaneous revelations. Since then I have thought of how many young lives could be changed with the introduction of a positive art moment in their lives.

From time to time, sitting surrounded by art at the at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café, Tom Robinson has expressed his concerns to me about keeping young people aware of jazz. He wondered out loud how we can preserve this art form in a time when there is so much competition for our attention. His conversations were reinforced after listening to mentors in jazz and the arts talk about the difficulty of teaching young artists following the decline of art and music programs in Detroit schools.


We know it when we see a place designed and built during a time when the arts were under serviced, a community built by someone who probably chose austerity over posterity. Today with so much of the public investment in arts programs being taken off the table, most of the money necessary to sustain our cultural environment will be coming from those who are able and generous.

Often these generous and well meaning individuals, corporations  or foundations miss an opportunity to include those who would most benefit from programs in the arts, those children who don’t have a chance to get even a whiff of the arts.

In Detroit we are fortunate to have many well run art and music programs available.

Unfortunately these programs don’t touch everyone.


The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation just announced $20 million in new funding to strengthen the arts in Detroit. The foundation has already invested $52 million in the arts since 2012. Knight further committed $30 million to the so-called Grand Bargain, which helped Detroit emerge from bankruptcy in 2014 while meeting its obligations to pensioners and preserving the permanent collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.These investments underscore Knight’s commitment to Detroit. Their generous investment will assure us that our anchor arts institutions will be secure. This is well worth doing.


I would like some more generosity aimed at:

Those kids that will never get to the symphony or the DIA. The kids who can’t get a ride to try out with The Mosaic Theatre. Those kids that do go to school on time and deserve to have their creative juices kickstarted by an arts program and an enthusiastic teacher. Those kids who need to learn that it OK to fail as long as you get up and try again. Those kids that should be able to remember that first thing they created and shared.


Jazz pianist and mentor Buddy Budson with piano student at the Carr Center


I would like to start a conversation to see if I am right to be concerned. Together we can seek out paths to assure that one of Detroit’s biggest assets, its creativity, is secure.

I know a lot of jazz artists are spending time with young musicians and many more would jump at the opportunity to teach the next generation. On this blog we can talk about what programs work and what still needs to be done. Let’s share good stories and pass them on. Join the conversation by leaving a comment or email me at

John Osler


November 28 – December 1

An explosion of spirit will be heard this week at the Dirty Dog. Aquanko, an assembly of some of Detroit’s very best musicians, will celebrate Latin jazz in this intimate club. You are invited to come by, lean back and enjoy some powerful music.

0 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page