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Detroit: Tangent Gallery
with Joe Van Bael and Laura Wartel

For me, Detroit has been layered with community connections that have led down one rabbit hole into another. I followed the momentum. People welcomed me in so easily, wanting me to learn about their city, inviting me into their community. After my first trip to Detroit, I already felt like I had found chosen family in the city. People I could count on, hang out with, stay with. There is beauty in the decay of Detroit. The people and the artists there are resilient. They operate with a high level of self-regulation and communal accountability, because, well, there was a time in Detroit when you couldn’t count on the police arriving, but you could count on your neighbor.

When it comes to community venues and a gathering place for artists, the Tangent Gallery is one of those special places in Detroit. It’s owned by Joe Van Bael, long-time resident and staple supporter of artists and crazy creative ideas. He started Tangent Gallery in 1999, around the same time as Theatre Bizarre.

My connection to Detroit started with Eric “Brick” Miller, the Burning Man Regional Contact for the area. He recommended I speak with Joe for this project, but was having trouble connecting with him. I bought a ticket for the Movement After Party at Tangent Gallery that night. I told Brick – Give me his name and a photo – I’ll find him. And I did.

Since that first night I stalked him and convinced him to be my friend, we’ve spent hours sitting on his rock outside of the Tangent, talking about the nightlife culture of Detroit and the many different events that artists have brought to his venue in the nearly 20 years since it has been in business.

Joe is one of the most genuine and down to earth people I’ve ever met. He introduced me to other people in the community and has hosted me on my two return trips to the city. When I open a nightlife venue, I want it to be based on the humble ethos that I have learned from Joe.

For this conversation we recorded at Tangent Gallery on October 19, 2018, we were joined by Laura Wartel, a young woman who has been booking shows at the Tangent for several years and contributes to the conversation as an artist and promoter. Laura is a natural entrepreneur. She shares with us some of the techniques she’s learned along the way for building a scene, producing events that push boundaries, and promotion techniques. Laura also runs a small business called Gallery Bypass, in which she invites artists to present their work at art parties without the red tape that can be found in most gallery applications.