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On the verge of change


In the category of 'what are they doing now,' Julie Upmeyer has lived abroad for years helping artists find spaces in which to be creative.


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Julie Upmeyer returns to the City of Grosse Pointe every 15 months to visit her parents in the City of Grosse Pointe and enjoy Michiganís various seasons. photo by Ann Fouty.

September 06, 2012
Julie Upmeyer is working on a big neighborhood art project with her friend and business partner, Anne Weshinskey, formerly of Chicago.

With a multitude of their artist friends, the exhibit is to show how their piece of the city is on the verge of change — again.

Upmeyer, a Grosse Pointe South High School graduate, does not live in a local neighborhood. For the past six years, she has been living on the European side of Istanbul, Turkey.

"People are not that different," she said on a hot August day.

Upmeyer was sitting on a couch in her parents' City of Grosse Pointe house dressed in a light gray sweater, burgundy skirt and navy blue T-shirt talking about the Turks and the amalgamation of her friends and associates. She came home for a six-week visit and to indulge in a Michigan summer. She returns to Grosse Pointe every 15 months because, she said, she enjoys Michigan's seasons.

"Living in Istanbul is not that different than living in Chicago, so many things are the same. We go to the store, we cook dinner. But I like being close to Europe, the mix of friends from all over the world. It's normal having many friends of different nationalities."

Upmeyer, who graduated from high school in 1998 and from Grand Valley State University in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts, worked for the Art Train for 10 years. She has lived in Berlin, New Delhi, Amsterdam and Athens, both pursuing her own interactive art of food and encouraging other artists with art space.

For example, a teacher on sabbatical or an artist with a large art project to complete can devote an extended amount of time to completing a project in a space devoted specifically to their needs at Caravansarai.

The use of the word "Caravansarai" was a deliberate choice, she said, an old world word. Camel caravans traversing the Silk Road would stop in villages and enjoy three free days of lodging. During their stay, Upmeyer related, those in the caravans would share stories and experiences.

Upmeyer's building is much the same. Visual artists, filmmakers, musicians, circus performers, architects, choreographers, writers and curators gather to expose and enhance their crafts. The site offers artists space and a place for artistic exchange and conversation. Upmeyer followed this path because she was interested in how artists and the community homogenize.

As the director, she runs both the residency and space for artists from all over the world. With those artists and some whom are invited, the coming show highlights what type of people are coming and buying the wares offered in the district.

Located in a hardware district where everything from home repair items to renovation materials are sold, Upmeyer predicts the venue will be gone in five years. This is much like how the area, steeped in history, has gone. Once a major seaport, it has also been the heart of the banking and financial center, she said.

"Now there are hundreds of small businesses, anything needed to renovate the house. As an artist I'm infatuated with the system and stuff. The way things come and go. What kinds of people are coming and buying," Upmeyer said.

It's a labor of creative documentation.

The exhibit is much like the work she did in an amusement park about to be torn down.

Upmeyer transformed a grassy area and turned it into Julie's Jungle after answering her own question — people go there to have a good time.

She created an interactive place in which people could, pass through and lose the city in a jungle-type setting.

"It was about a special location and meaning and what viewers thank or do, more of an experience," she said.

Recreation

While art is her career, swimming is an extension of who she was in high school and college and how opportunity is always there.

Upmeyer swam in high school and college and retired from swimming professionally for Grand Valley 10 years ago.

"I haven't raced since then," she said.

Four to five mornings a week, to keep in shape and hang out with friends, Upmeyer takes to the pool near her apartment.

When the chance to race 6.5 kilometers across the Straits of Bosphorus in the Bosphorus Cross-Continental race came up, she decided the timing was right.

With 1,200 other swimmers, Upmeyer swam the distance in 48 minutes and 23 seconds in July. She won her age group, women 30 to 39, and placed fourth overall in the 24th annual event which ends on the European side of the strait.

"I always wanted to swim it, but the timing was never right," she said. "I wanted to try open water swimming, as I've never done it before."

Completing a major open-water swimming event and installing a major art exhibit, what's next.

"I may have jobs in eastern Europe, the Balkans. Things are starting and there are opportunities. I leave myself open."

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