Karilú Alarcón Forshee has been in theater for as long as she can remember. Her application for the Kresge Arts in Detroit fellowship, however, marked a turning point in her artistic life.
A native of Juárez, México, Forshee has worked as a Detroit-based performer and teaching artist for the last decade. In 2020, she was selected as a Kresge Artist Fellow in Live Arts.
“I was feeling very confident about what I was doing — finally,” said Forshee, 37. “I truly think I am bringing my whole self to what I am creating. It’s allowing me to connect with the audience fully, and in order for this to continue, I needed support.”
In 2022, Kresge Arts in Detroit, a Kresge Foundation program administered by the College for Creative Studies, will award 20 fellowships, like the one Forshee received, and 10 Gilda Awards to metro Detroit artists working in the areas of live arts, as well as film and music. The application deadline is Jan. 20.
Even if she hadn’t received the fellowship, Forshee said the application process alone was valuable for her.
“As artists, we just keep moving,” she said. “This was a nice moment of reflection of what I have done.”
The Kresge Artist Fellowships are $25,000 no-strings-attached awards that include professional development for the artist and the creation of a short film highlighting their work.
The Gilda Awards — named in honor of the late Gilda Snowden, an artist, College for Creative Studies professor and 2009 Kresge Artist fellow — are $5,000 prizes for emerging artists.
Applicants must be 18 or older and have lived in Wayne, Oakland or Macomb County for at least two years prior to the application deadline.
The applications are reviewed by two independent panels: one for live arts and one for film and music. The panelists will remain anonymous until the artist selections are announced in July.
The Kresge Arts in Detroit program has given more than $6.7 million in awards and fellowships to metro Detroit artists since 2008, directly supporting the region’s culture.
‘I have to paint the doors and open them for people’
Dancer Mike Manson, also awarded a Kresge Arts Fellowship last year, said the award helped him survive during the struggles of the coronavirus pandemic. His father died of the virus in May.
“This is how I support my family,” Manson said of his work as a dancer. As an artist, his goal is to elevate an art form born in the city: Detroit Jit.
“I’m a Detroit Jitter,” said Manson, 33. “I do a style from here and a style of dance that was born here.”
He’s performed on “So You Think You Can Dance” and choreographed dance for the Detroit Pistons.
Jit, a street dance defined by high-speed footwork and backed by musical styles like ghettotech, techno and funk, came into being in the 1970s, before Manson was born. He told Detour he wants to both keep Detroit Jit alive and to bring it the same professional standing held by tap dancing, ballet and jazz.
“I want [Detroit Jit] to get respect from a theater standpoint and also open up other doors to help [dancers] do this. If I want to keep this certain style alive, I feel like I have to paint the doors and open them for people.”
The Kresge application process taught Manson to be more organized and to document his art, he said. Another lesson Manson said he learned: the artists who could benefit from grants and fellowships don’t always know about them.
“It’s a whole other world out here for grants,” he said. “People from my community — no one tells us about these grants.”
For Manson, Detroit Jit is a form of therapy.
“At the end of the day, this saves lives. A lot of the time when people are lost, they turn to the street or turn to something negative. Or they exist and not live. I want to live,” he said.
“And I don’t want to live this life working a regular 9-to-5. I really believe in this art.”
Kresge fellowship brings ‘sense of belonging’
Forshee’s artistic endeavors are in the performing arts: Latin dance, singing and theater.
“As an artist, sharing these parts of you that matter to you with the audience, that’s the moment everything makes sense and becomes whole,” she said.
When she moved to the United States, Forshee said her identity was “all over the place” as she tried to fit in.
“Sometimes you cannot translate that,” she said. “I love singing in Spanish. The things that inspire me are my roots and the stories of the women I come from.”
The Kresge Artist Fellowship made it possible for Forshee to begin working on a piece focused on the violence against women in Latin America, a particular concern in her hometown of Juárez. Her work blends Latin American music with experimental theater.
“I started writing and [the fellowship] gave me the support to start writing this piece that would mix poetry from local authors who have lived through this crisis and understand the problems in the city,” she explained.
The Kresge fellowship came after a long, hard journey of finding a space where she belongs and making sense of a new life, Forshee said.
“It was an honor and also it [gave me] a sense of belonging to this place that I love so much, that has helped me grow so much.”
Forshee, who is a teaching artist at organizations such as Living Arts Detroit, said there’s no final destination for her work. She plans to continue integrating her roots, the work she does with children and her artistry.
“Every time, it’s informed completely by the work I do with kids. I think of all my students and what it would mean for them if I get this grant — if a person who looks like them gets this grant,” she said.
“Every movement I make, every performance I make, I’m always thinking of them.”
Learn more about the Kresge Artist Fellowship application process here.