Creative Class: Bruce Giffin


Photo by Kristina Sikora

Being painfully self taught after 30 years of beating my head against the wall, I stopped long enough in 2011 to receive a Kresge Artist Fellowship for a project called “The Face Of Detroit”. I am humbled beyond words and if anything, it has motivated me to beat my head a little harder. I’m not yet good enough…

I have made a living for the past 30 years as a freelance photographer, and when I’m done for the day with that, I go into the city and attempt to feed my heart for no pay. This is a pretty good definition for “happiness”!

What inspires you to create?
I think photography saved my life. I had as sales job in the 70’s and 80’s and my life was miserable. Since I walked away and started to work as a photographer, I don’t have bad days…
I tell young people that to make it as a freelancer, you have to despise the work you were doing enough to NEVER go back. I create new work, or I have to go back to sales, which I will never do…

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?
I suppose that would have to be my project ”The Face Of Detroit”. It was a photo project featuring street people I randomly bumped into on the street! In all, there were about 150 subjects about 1/3 to 1/2 homeless. I was awarded a Kresge Artist Fellowship in 2011 for it and it continues to be my most requested work for exhibitions!

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?
Minor white said it takes 20 years to become a good photographer. I agree although 18 or 19 years ago I didn’t believe that was true. I think the biggest failing of young photographers is using tricks and schemes and gimmicks instead of just shooting good pictures. I don’t think there is a shortcut to doing quality work. Shooting an excess of pictures in a short time won’t get you there in a shorter period of time. You have to put the time in and do the work. I don’t think there are any shortcuts…

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


I think if you trick people into noticing your work, they will not trust you when they find out you’re using tricks instead of technique…


slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Michael Zadoorian


Michael Zadoorian is the author of two novels, THE LEISURE SEEKER (William Morrow) and SECOND HAND (W.W. Norton) and a story collection, THE LOST TIKI PALACES OF DETROIT (Wayne State University Press). A motion picture of THE LEISURE SEEKER starring Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland is scheduled to be released in 2017. Zadoorian is a recipient of a Kresge Artist Fellowship in the Literary Arts, the Columbia University Anahid Literary Award, the Michigan Notable Book award, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award and was long-listed for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. His work has appeared in The Literary Review, Beloit Fiction Journal, American Short Fiction, Witness, Great Lakes Review, North American Review and the anthologies Bob Seger’s House, On The Clock, and Detroit Noir.

What inspires you to create? A lot of things inspire me to write. Often I just notice things out in the world, the light a certain way, phrases that people speak, moments that move me in some way. So I write them down. (You always think you’re going to remember, but you never do, so write them down.) Then I just copy all them down into a big document. (Which, after decades of doing this, is now hundreds of pages long.) Later, when I’m trying to come up with a story or a book idea, I go to my notebook file. There’s always something there that sparks an idea. Detroit also continues to inspire me. I’ve lived here all my life and it took me a long time to realize that was a gift. It’s important to know who you are and where you live. Good or bad, Detroit is a huge part of who I am as a person and a writer. I like writing with a strong sense of place and Detroit has it.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

Not really sure what that is. My first answer wants to be the first time that I finished a full-length novel. It’s a hard thing to do and a lot of writers whom I admire never manage to do that. It’s difficult. That said, I’m very proud of my published books. It makes me feel good to know that I never wrote anything thinking, “This is sure to sell!” I’ve always written what I wanted to write. That’s very important to me. Rest assured that has backfired on me a few times. I still have finished novels that I haven’t gotten out into the world. I’m not sure why, but I do know that no matter what happens to them, they were books that I wanted to write and they were important to me. A friend of mine once said, “When you write a novel, you find out what your obsessions are.” I couldn’t agree more.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people? 

Nothing revolutionary, I’m afraid. Do your work. Nothing is going to happen unless you do your work. Keep trying. Put in the hours. That’s the only way to get better. Also, it’s not going to be easy. Develop a thick skin. There’s going to be a lot of rejection. A lot. See if there’s anything to be learned from it or just ignore it, but just keep doing your work and trying to get better. You have to keep doing it and need to keep doing it. Do it for yourself and no one else. You can try to please people and that will get you only so far. And it will probably just screw you up in the long run. Ultimately, you need to please yourself first and foremost. Whatever you’re making, make it your way and let everyone catch up with you.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

About the only word that feels appropriate is: persistent. Though I would love to be, I am not some brilliant writer who believed that he was destined for greatness as a child. I’m a guy from Detroit just worked and kept working. (That’s sort of what we do here.) And I also tried to create circumstances that allowed me to do so. Even when everyone was telling me no, and rejecting my work, I just kept doing it, no matter how much it hurt. (They’re still telling me no, by the way. It never ends.) I didn’t quit. I’m still not particularly satisfied with where I’m at, but I’m not expecting it to get easier. I still have to be persistent.

For more information about Michael, CLICK HERE.

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.


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Creative Class: Sarah Nesbitt

snSarah Nesbitt was born in Syracuse, New York and has a MFA in Photography at Pennsylvania State University and a BFA in Photography and Drawing at the State University of New York at Oswego. Her interests lie in studying how history is used and perceived, in conjunction with investigating the importance of people’s actions and behaviors towards that information acquired to them.

Nesbitt’s work have been featured in publications such as the French Magazine Levure Litteraire, the third edition of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (Cengage Learning Press), Photographer’s Forum, Detroit Metro Times and INSIGHT 7 Magazine. She has had recent group exhibitions that included jurors such as Jennifer Blessing, Curator of Photography at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (2012); Christopher James, Author of The Book of Alternative Photographic Processes (2012) and Louis Grachos, Director of Albright-Knox Gallery (2005). Her work is in the collection of the Pennsylvania State University Library in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Collection; Deborah Stanley, President of the State University of New York at Oswego, Graham Sullivan, Director of the School of Visual Arts at Pennsylvania State University, and Charles Garoian, Professor of Art and Art Education at Pennsylvania State University. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Photography and Art History at Marygrove College in Detroit.


What inspires you to create?
Researching history, reading about it and discussing it motivates me to create work about it. I also teach 20th and 21st Century Art History and World Art History at Marygrove College, so I spend a lot of time talking about people, events and the construction of history itself (historiography). I also reading a lot about history, listen to podcasts such as Radiolab, This American Life, and going to talks relating to historiography, storytelling and current trends in science.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?
That’s a really good question, and a hard one to answer, I think it might have been the time I realized I wanted to be a photographer. I’ve been in notable exhibitions (in Argentina, UAE, Royal Scottish Academy, South Korea and NY State Museum) that I am very proud of, but I’d like to give credit to the time when I realized that photography was the medium for me to explore, fall in love with and still get giddy about. It was from an visual art retrospective of Carrie Mae Weems’ work that I saw when I was 14 years old and the way she used photography allowed me to see photographs that weren’t created to show pretty pictures of landscapes and people, but to carry a message and tell someone else’s story from a empathetic point of view.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

Find your community and an inspiring place to create your work. You don’t have to live in NYC, Chicago or Los Angeles to be an artist, although they are great places to exhibit your work and to visit, but you don’t have to struggle to live there. What matters is being able to find an ideal place to be inspired and in an environment that supports you as an artist (emotionally, financially, etc.). For example, Sally Mann lives in the middle of the country, away from people, still makes work and is a very well-known successful photographer, and you have Chuck Close who lives in a couple of places in the NYC area who’s also a well-known, successful artist. Success itself is defined by you, it’s all about living a fulfilled life that makes sense to you.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?
maybe….Curious. I love learning and experiencing new things….

To learn more about Sarah, CLICK HERE.

slide1_fotoris a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Kathleen Pfeiffer


Kathleen Pfeiffer is an essayist, memoirist and literary critic living in Rochester Hills,

Kathy was raised in Trumbull, Connecticut.  She earned her B.A. from Emmanuel College, and her M.A. and Ph.D. from Brandeis University.  Kathy taught writing at Yale University from 1990 to 1997, and she was the Writing Tutor and Resident Fellow of Morse College at Yale for two of those years.  She is currently Professor of English at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.  Kathy was named Kresge Fellow in the Literary Arts in 2012 for her creative nonfiction writing.

What inspires you to create?

Author Henry James talks about “the germ of an idea” that’s at the launch of each writing project, and for me this germ always infects me when I’m least expecting it. I just finished an essay that began when an opening line came to me completely intact (the line was “He only hit me that one time,” although after much revision, it now lives in the middle of the piece). Sometimes I have an “aha” moment in the middle of teaching a class, when I notice a scene or a line in the literature I’m discussing, which makes a completely unexpected connection to my own life. I’ve had some pieces grow unexpectedly out of writing prompts or creative writing workshop assignments. For most writers, the compulsion to tell stories provides constant inspiration. “Once upon a time” walks with us everywhere.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’m extremely proud of the creative nonfiction and memoir essays that I’ve completed and sent out into the world, and am ever hopeful that they’ll find a home and an audience. But for me, one of the most inspiring and unexpected achievements is my collaboration with Ali Woerner and Thayer Jonutz at Take Root Dance. I first worked with Ali and Thayer for my Art X Detroit performance in 2013 in which they danced my stories. We’ve collaborated a few times since then. I learn so much about language and storytelling by witnessing the evolution of a dance, since choreography is a nonverbal language all its own. Writing is so lonely, but dance is always social and interactive – I love watching them work, and we always bring out the best in each others’ creative selves.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people? 

I would encourage younger creative to develop a disciplined practice that keeps their vision at its core. Discipline is especially important now because we live in a world with so many distractions. I’ve noticed in myself how easily my train of thought can be interrupted – just as I’ve noticed how much more and better I write when I work uninterrupted. The single best book I’ve read about this topic is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Learn more about Kathy and her writings by CLICKING HERE.


is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.


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Arts Advocacy Month – Support the creativity in Michigan

As many of you know, I am a proud Board member of Creative Many Michigan (CMM) and our mission is very straightforward:

Creative Many is a statewide organization that develops creative people, creative places and the creative economy for a competitive Michigan through research, advocacy, professional practice and communications.

unnamedI am always invigorated after attending one of our CMM board meetings because not only do I get to listen and experience the good work we do, but I get to experience with other passionate members of the Board that bring a variety of experience and commentary to the table. We are one voice when it comes to the arts community and moreover, the creative sector which thrives in Michigan. I would venture to say that many of you do not realize the economic impact the creative industries has in Michigan. How it effects our workforce and how so much more work is needed.

Let me share a couple of facts with you from our 2016 Creative Industries Report (an update from a prior report which includes data from 2011-2014) which can be read in its entirety by downloading here.

  • Creative industries employed 88, 761 people in Michigan, an increase of 1.49%.
  • $4.97 billion in wages is responsible for the creative industries.

high-res_header_realThe arts matter to me and should matter to you, everywhere in the United States. This is an industry which produces serious wages, employment and can be a major force to bring talent to Michigan. When you think of creativity – some may think it only involves, music, painting and writing. Creative people are not confined to these (albeit important aspects of art), but include architects, engineers, design (fashion, automotive), and technology. They are entrepreneurs, they are major corporations that can utilize their talent and equipment to not only design a vehicle part, but something within the textile industry.

I am usually not political in my social media postings or blogs, but as a musician and as one that is passionate about keeping our arts alive — I need help spread the great work that occurs within out community.

Creative Many can use your help by signing a petition that would go to your legislators so your voice can be heard and your support can be given. For more information, please CLICK HERE.

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Creative Class: Heidi Kaloustian

heidiHeidi Kaloustian is a writer who lives and works in Detroit. She has received numerous awards and honors for her writing, including a 2015 Schulze Fellowship for a debut novel, a 2012 Kresge Fellowship in the Literary Arts, and a Hopwood Award in Fiction. In 2005, she was named a Davidson Fellow, Laureate of Literature. She was the first Davidson Fellow to receive the top prize in the category of literature.

She holds a BA from the University of Michigan and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she studied fiction with Marilynne Robinson and Karen Russell. She served as the fiction editor of the Iowa Review, a tri-annual literary journal. During her tenure as editor, the magazine’s fiction was awarded a Tim McGinnis Award and Pushcart nominations, and was included in the 2016 Best American Short Stories and 2016 Best American Non-Required Reading.

She is also a visual artist with a focus on book arts and book-making. In 2013, she exhibited a series of thirteen visual works and a limited-edition book at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Detroit (MOCAD). Her work explores the dynamic between seeing and reading, image and text, the object and the imaginary.

Kaloustian has taught creative writing and served as a guest teacher in metro-Detroit public schools. She is currently at work on her first novel.

What inspires you to create?

Other artists. Art is always the conduit for me. The sentences of Marquez, or Nabokov. My childhood loves Hawthorne and Poe, the rhythms of their stories, memorized but somehow always veering new. Gertrude Stein and Aram Saroyan make language seem totally bizarre and infinite with possibilities. They make me want to write, and attend more closely to the world around me, see and hear the strangeness and electricity crackling beneath the ordinary. Visual art, too.
Hieronymus Bosch and Paul Delvaux’s worlds seem to contain everything I’ve ever wanted to say.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement:

The finish line is always moving. Every project has its own challenges, and once you figure those out, you start setting new goals. And I think that’s good, the way it should be. The most satisfying part of writing is so microscopic and humble and alone: the feeling of pinning it down just right, getting the image, the sentence. I can think of one passage, the end of a story, maybe three hundred words, that wrote itself in a rush, perfectly, everything sharp and singing right. That’s the closest I get to a feeling of accomplishment. That’s what I love most.

What advice would you give the next generation of creative people?

Oh wow. I just graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and lived for two years in a postage stamp sized city that contains the most writers and translators and poets per square foot in the world. I heard so much advice! I think I’ve distilled from all of it the idea that the process of making art is singular and irreducible. Advice is just comforting because it make us feel less alone, less scared of a process that is generally lonely, and scary, and kind of mysterious. Every artist creates according to their own peculiar habits, every project has its own particular requirements. But I think its a comfort to know this, too: it means you’re not doing it wrong.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?

Meticulous (me and the work)

For more information about Heidi and her work, check out her website:


is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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Creative Class: Michael Shimmin

tieMichael Shimmin is one of the most in-demand percussionists in the state of Michigan. Well versed in the styles of jazz, world, folk, rock, and classical music, he continually proves to be a valuable asset to any musical project. Graduating from Western Michigan University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance, Michael studied under the instruction of Judy Moonert, Billy Hart, and Keith Hall. In 2007 he was awarded the Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council, which allowed him to begin studies with world-renowned percussionist, Jamey Haddad. In this ongoing relationship, Michael continues to study drum set, hand percussion, and rhythm.

While still in music school, Michael joined his first major professional musical project: Millish, an Ann Arbor-based Irish-fusion group. Millish introduced Michael to performing at major music festivals across the country, studio recording, and multitude of international performances (including tours in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland).

At the same time, Michael was playing percussion in Kruziki Transatlantica Quintet, a group formed at Western Michigan University. Founded by saxophonist Aaron Kruziki, the ensemble played a mix of Piazzolla-inspired tangos, middle-eastern music, and American jazz. The group was awarded with multiple DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards, including “Best Jazz Group,” and “Best Classical Chamber Ensemble”, and was invited to perform at the International Association for Jazz Education Conference in New York City in 2006, and at a concert in Tunis, Tunisia in 2008.

Around 2005, Michael met Michigan musicians Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, when Millish was invited to play at Bernard’s Earthwork Harvest Gathering music festival. Michael was blown away by the duo’s live performance. In 2006, he was asked by Bernard to play with him in Kalamazoo, MI, which soon led to Michael being invited to play drums on Erlewine’s upcoming album (“Mother Moon”), and almost all of Seth and May’s releases since (all of which appear on Earthwork Music–a Michigan based musical collective that not only acts as a record label, but promotes raising community and self-awareness through the power of music). On the Earthwork label alone, Michael has performed on almost 20 albums with over 10 groups, and has earned a reputation as “the guy who plays with everybody” in the Michigan music scene, and still is touring regularly with Seth and May.

From 2008-2012, Michael was a member of the Kalamazoo based band The Red Sea Pedestrians. Mixing original folk music with Eastern-European styles and rock n roll, the music of this group allowed Michael to utilize his own style of combining drum set and hand percussion. He can be heard on the releases “Adrift”, and “The Electromagnetic Escape”.

In 2008, Michael was recruited by Ann Arbor based harmonica legend Peter Madcat Ruth to play in the acoustic blues quartet Madcat, Kane, & Maxwell Street. This group released their first CD, “Live at the Creole Gallery” in 2009 and has been performing regularly since. Michael also currently plays with Madcat in a louder, electric setting called Madcat Midnight Blues Journey.

What inspires you to create?

It has always been kind of a mystery to me. Why do I get this feeling that I must play music? It’s just something that I’ve had since I was a young kid. Nowadays I go through periods of feeling more inspired, as well as periods of being not-so-inspired. But I still have to do it (make music). It’s almost like an essential bodily function at this point, like eating or drinking or going to the bathroom.

I do love performing. I feel like it’s kind of an ancient responsibility that some people were given. To make music for others to listen to. Whether it makes them happy, sad, or makes them want to dance, each person gets something different out of it. I’m happy to provide, because in that way I get my kicks too.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’d like to think I haven’t achieved my greatest yet! But I am very proud of all of the recordings I’ve done with so many of my talented friends. I’m proud of my band, the olllam, because we seem to have inspired a lot of people in the Irish music scene (and beyond), and it’s led to me being able to travel to different parts of the world to play. Also, playing with Aretha Franklin was pretty amazing.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

Don’t be afraid to stay on the path that allows you to make a living doing what you want. There will be very hard times but the people who push through those usually end up successful, and hopefully happy. I always got offended when older people told me, “You better have something to fall back on if this music thing doesn’t work.” That idea always made me cringe.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Catch up with Mike on his website: 



is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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