This coming Sunday at 6:30 p.m., Detroit Soup will celebrate its two-year anniversary with a dinner at 2900 E. Grand Blvd., featuring a performance by The Detroit Flyhouse Circus School. There is quite a lot to celebrate. Begun by a handful of participants, the micro-granting dinner has undergone steady expansion, having now outgrown its previous location above the Mexicantown Bakery — a raw loft space they painstakingly converted into a cozy event spot — and having just received an operating grant from the Knight Foundation. I had the pleasure of visiting its newly opened Corktown office recently to talk with Amy Kaherl, the director of Detroit Soup — just back from delivering a TEDx Talk in California — and her collaborator, John Notarianni.
Both the structure and function of Detroit Soup offer an elegant example of pared down simplicity. Participants contribute five dollars to a community pot, listen to presentations by groups vying for the amount collected that night, vote on which group they’d like to award the money to, then enjoy a volunteer-prepared dinner. The experience is radically different from donating to a large, amorphous charity. The funds raised at Detroit Soup have immediate, practical uses with hyper-local impact and have been awarded to an eclectic mix of artists and activists and entrepreneurs. It’s a crowd-sourcing event that — unlike online fundraising platforms like Kickstarter — occurs in real physical space, away from the computer screen. As Kaherl pointed out, awarding the grant is really only one aspect of the event, perhaps not even the most crucial one.
Detroit Soup creates a space that enables interaction among strangers, and something truly special happens when strangers group together under the aegis of collaboration and community involvement. It represents the opening of a closed, fixed equation to unknown variables of unlimited upside potential, the potential of other people — people with the desire to do something, people with unique talents and idiosyncratic perspectives and, most importantly, a desire to help. At Detroit Soup, designers meet writers, activists meet artists and abstract ideas become real.
Detroit Soup is a fine bellwether for the city of Detroit, and its progress similarly relies on the hands-on participation of neighbors. If nobody shows up, nothing happens. But they do show up. They show up in droves and with big ideas and a passion to contribute. That is the fundamental energy driving Detroit Soup: the conjoining of creative problem solving with the innate need to help others — the simple, sublime desire to be useful.
The next Detroit Soup event takes place this Sunday, Feb. 12, at 2900 E. Grand Blvd. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and presentations begin at 7:30 p.m.