Lisa Biggs awarded $100,000 from Knight Foundation for new play exploring role of women and girls in Detroit’s 1967 unrest

November 7, 2016

Lisa Biggs, assistant professor in the MSU Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, has received $100,000 from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation as part of its funding of arts projects that explore the origins and impact of Detroit’s 1967 civil unrest.

Knight Foundation awarded $682,000 overall.

Biggs’ project, ‘AFTER/LIFE,’ is a production she has developed to tell the stories of the many overlooked women and girls involved in the 1967 conflict by bringing together oral history, theater, poetry and dance.

“I was struck by the silences around women and girls’ involvement,” Biggs said. “In ’67, they were pictured right alongside the men and boys on the streets. They put their bodies on the line, but from many written accounts you would never know it. I hope ‘AFTER/LIFE’ can better represent the past and create opportunities for audience members to dream a more fair, just and equitable future for Detroit residents.”

‘AFTER/LIFE’ will be directed by Kristin Horton, associate professor of practice at New York University, and will commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of the unrest. Audiences will learn what motivated the events and about the determination of Detroit’s women and girls to rebuild their city and their lives.

This fall, Biggs’ students are working to gather oral histories for “AFTER/LIFE” and another group of students will work to write the script next semester. When the production is moved to Detroit in the summer 2017, Biggs will collaborate with a Detroit cast and the Detroit Historical Society to collect and interweave additional narratives.

“One of the things that makes performance art such as ‘AFTER/LIFE’ so important today is its ability to strengthen our democratic culture,” said Stephen Esquith, dean of RCAH. “The voices of women and girls that were once lost are now included in our conversation about the causes and effects of democratic movements and their futures. ‘AFTER/LIFE’ will not only be inclusive in this retrospective sense, but will also invite new conversations about the obstacles to greater inclusion. This is a common theme in Professor Biggs’ work and we are pleased to see the new support.”

Because the arts sector is essential to interpreting this defining event in the city’s history, Knight Foundation has committed its support of new efforts that advance the dialogue surrounding the conflict’s underlying causes and legacy. These projects complement the work of the Knight- and Ford Foundation-funded Detroit Journalism Cooperative, whose yearlong project, The Intersection, explores whether the social and economic conditions that sparked the tragic events of 1967 have improved in Detroit.

“Journalists can report what happened, but artists can describe what it means and how it feels on a deep, human level,” said Alberto Ibargüen, Knight Foundation president. “Detroit artists can interpret the events of 1967 and create empathy among neighbors who share a past, present and a future.”

When it is performed in Detroit, ‘AFTER/LIFE’ will engage audiences around the city.

“Opportunities to act will come in the form of arts workshops offered in the neighborhood and in conjunction with the show,” Biggs said. “These will be additional places where young and old can meet, make some beautiful art together and engage in these important discussions about the city’s future, with the needs of women and girls at the forefront.”