Kate Daughdrill is (along with her friend Jessica Hernandez) responsible for launching Detroit Soup — a monthly social gathering that raises money to fund micro-grants for community-oriented projects as voted on by the attendees. The event is set up as a dinner party in the loft space above Mexicantown Bakery, which is owned by Hernandez's family, and is held the first Sunday of every month (11/7 will be the next gathering).
"It started as a gathering experiment just to see what would happen once these conversations started," Daughdrill says. The intention behind Soup is to engage people from the community in dialogue about how to support each other in a practical way, and then actually do so. Every project proposal submitted for the month is presented and voted on by those who donated their $5 at the door, and can be anything from traditional art projects to socially-engaged projects, from regional photography to community park renovations to hoop house builds. "We tried to really open it up so it can be anyone from artists to builders," she explains.
When Daughdrill and Hernandez initiated Soup in February — facilitated with a whole network of friends and community members, each one of them volunteering their time and efforts — it started with about 20 people. Now it has grown to over 150, with the largest crowd yet attending the October gathering. Daughdrill worries about the growing size and admits they may need to start limiting their audience, saying, "For people to actually have these conversations it is important to the experience that it feel intimate and not overwhelming."
One way it can continue to grow in a sustainable way is for other Soup projects to branch off from this one. Already a second Soup — Soup at Spaulding, which is held every Thursday — has grown from this, and Daughdrill hopes there will be more. "We're interested in being a hub to launch other Soups, and connecting informally as friends. I want people to feel free to make it their own," she says. "We're all talking so much about sustainability now; whatever we do that is going to be sustainable has to be enjoyable, too."
Which is why Soup is organized as a dinner party with hearty, healthful organic soups, salads and sweets made by volunteers and breads donated from Avalon. "The idea is for Soup to be a spot for some serious dialogue but also a casual connection with people," explains Daughdrill. "And we also hope it's really pleasurable and really fun; we want to show we can engage citizens in a way that is pleasure-based."
Daughdrill, an artist and graduate student at Cranbrook, is most interested in the intersection between art and community — the political and social life of a city. "It's interesting to see how we develop these little independent hubs alongside the infrastructure and institutions of the city," she says. A model like Soup is community-driven and democratic; it allows for the people to decide how they want the money they've donated spent and encourages conversation about how to do that. It is a micro-economy, an independent cultural infrastructure, which makes it more sustainable than projects tied to nonprofit regulations or corporate interests. It is, in a word, pure.
"I think that a lot of issues in terms of arts or infrastructure are pretty urgent," Daughdrill further explains. "There's a need for this sort of process of how we support each other." It is about how to learn and grow together, how to engage in important and timely dialogues and create true democratic experiences where people hash things out through dialogue. It's not simply a matter of micro-grant funding; it is a whole new concept of community organization. | RDW
Detroit Soup • 11/7, 7 p.m. • above Mexicantown Bakery Loft • 4330 W. Vernor St., Detroit • detroitsoup.com • $5