Mari Stanev – “Rendering 715 Haven Street: Thinking of Presence and Digital Tangibility in Black and Ally Spaces at the University of Michigan”

Black and white exterior photo of 715 Haven Street, Painting of 715 Haven Street exterior, and rendering screenshot of 715 Haven Street: Art Looks Back.

In the Summer of 2021, I was a Museum intern helping to conceive and research a digital gallery commemorating the role of art in the Department of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS) here at the University of Michigan. That summer of work led me to being gladly and productively lost in a world of digital gallery rendering, historical research, and literature and politics. Now that I have finished my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and the Museum Studies Certificate, I am continuing to work on the objects and history pertaining to that initial archival and artistic quest: I’m developing my manuscript-in-progress and continuing to work on the digital gallery “715 Haven Street: Art Looks Back.”

The internship, a partnership between DAAS and MSP (Museum Studies Program), was a puzzle from the start. How to bring so much history, so much art, and so many questions about institutional memory, community engagement, and world history under one gallery? That question only got deeper from my initial conversations with Elizabeth (Beth) James, the brilliant and wonderful DAAS Librarian and alumna from the first few years of the department’s creation. Beth oversaw my work, and we had mind-boggling chats about history, institutional memory, the wisdom of our forebears inside and outside academia, and how much intergenerational work made the whole story possible in the first place. 

Taking Beth’s wise suggestion, I started my archival research from one crucial “object” in this history: 715 Haven Street, a house that was the original home of DAAS (back then CAAS, the Center for Afroamerican and African Studies) in downtown Ann Arbor, Central Campus of the University of Michigan. One of the most striking sources that I found was a video from the early ‘70s that depicted a ceremony in which a mural was unveiled in front of the house. When I shared that footage with Beth, she had a major “aha!” moment: the footage likely had been captured by a camera owned by Jon O. Lockard, one of the founding members and first Chairs of DAAS. 

This video led me to search for personal stories from the students who had interacted with the murals at 715 Haven St. I started finding all of the unofficial art that students created in the 1970s, often reflecting their daily concerns and interests. In fighting to bring well-reported cases of racial violence to institutional accountability, and to keep that threat from challenging the space for Black and ally art spaces created by 715 Haven Street, students made sketches calling students to unite against oppression and racism, they contributed murals to public viewing outside of the House, and called for solidarity meetings and shared ally spaces to be created.  

Gathering these wonderful sources was not the whole picture, of course. The objects and the stories had to be interpreted. There was perhaps no greater object interpretation challenge in this project than the series of fires, deemed accidental, that surrounded many of these objects. Dr. Lockard’s personal home studio, 715 Haven Street, and DAAS’ second address on campus, 1100 South University Street, were all involved in fires deemed accidental in the 1970s. The structure of 715 Haven Street itself was lost in one such fire, though several murals made it through. (You can see one of them in the current DAAS address in Haven Hall right by the stairs that lead to the Chair’s office!)

In this current phase of rendering the house, I want to create a digital space that invites users to step inside this history from the vantage point of the present. I am using a mix of object templates and original archival photos of the exterior murals of the house. In the future, the internal gallery spaces and the exterior will be redesigned to reflect faithfully the structure of the house. For now, I am rendering three gallery spaces that the user can navigate into from the “House” home screen. The digital recreation, from the initial demo to a more robust recreation, of course, is no substitute for the effect of the original 715 Haven Street house and it does not change the effects of the fires that surround the first years of the history of DAAS on campus. But making the effort to confront our collective actions and histories as we translate these physical absences into virtual presence can help us make a different sense of what’s yet to be done.

Mari Stanev

Mari A. Stanev finished her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature and Graduate Certificate in Museum Studies in August 2022. This fall, she is a Lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Michigan. Mari is working on her first manuscript project tracing the cultural history of pacification policies across Latin America and the U.S.. Mari is also committed to the digital public humanities and is working on a digital gallery project to accompany the manuscript. Outside of academia, she spends her time producing music, daydreaming, and hanging out with family and friends in Ann Arbor.