For someone who lives and/or works in Detroit, what do you think they should know about the Scarab Club and its impact?
The Scarab Club … is one of Michigan’s oldest art organizations and of course one of the city’s oldest, as well. It started as a group of artists that met to discuss art, and then eat and drink and have organized exhibitions. And then the building we’re housed in now was completed in 1928, so that building was always the Scarab Club. We’re on the city, state and national historic registers. We’ve always had exhibitions, live sketch sessions and we have working artist studios in the building. Also, our lounge beams on the second floor (are), like, the guest book for the club. There’s autographs of many famous artists that have passed through, like Diego Rivera, Norman Rockwell, locally Charles McGee, Gilda Snowden.
What’s it been like during the pandemic?
It probably reflects what’s going on in many similar organizations. We’re a club. One of the main things we do is have gatherings and receptions. So, of course, it’s been challenging. But we have switched to a lot of virtual things, so all of our exhibitions have been also virtual. Our operations scaled back quite a bit, but we’ve stayed open and solvent. It’s been a challenge but … we’ve been through a lot of difficult time periods. We’re hoping that this year we can do more, you know.
Any big decisions coming up for the board?
Well, we have talked quite a bit more about diversity, especially in the last year. And so, every year around this time we’re looking at new board members. We did vote to welcome a new board member and it’s an attorney and a person of color so we’re very excited about that.
We’ve got a lot coming up, programming-wise.
These weren’t necessarily board decisions, but things that came out of our discussions: For instance, beam signings. For this year we’re having two Black women sign the beams: Dell Pryor and Shirley Woodson. And these were board decisions that we made in the last couple of months. So I’m very excited about that, and pushed for that. Overall the board has been making decisions with diversity in mind and inclusion and equity and that’s something I am most excited about and most excited to see before my term ends (in June).
What were your impressions being the club’s first Black board president, and your thoughts on that while moving forward in the position?
I was very happy to even be considered for the position and obviously feel very privileged to be that. I’m happy the organization was already where they were even before I stepped in the door, that this was an organic thing that happened, not at all forced and just felt right, you know, and that everybody was 100 percent on board. Obviously I felt like there were things I wanted to see happen, and I wasn’t sure how much pushback I might receive. It’s an old organization, there can be a resistance to change, you know. It’s not that anyone doesn’t want to see diversity, but sometimes it’s just easy to do what was always done. (My first year as board president) the programming was already planned. Then the second year, coronavirus. So, so many things we’d hoped to happen didn’t happen. But this year I’m just the most proud to see that people were on board for us to have our historic, first real Black History Month celebration (with Black artists), and with so much media coverage for that, it resulted in us having big numbers of visitors. We averaged 40 visitors a day and for that to happen during the pandemic is huge. We have four Black board members, and a fifth (Alexis Martin) coming on board. I feel like maybe more of it, at least outward-facing, was crammed into this last year, but behind the scenes, there was (equity) work going on before that, in our committees and things …
I also wanted to ask about your own work. Do you see yourself as an entrepreneur, in your photography?
I do, but I have to honestly say that the art side of my brain and the art administration side of my brain, it’s hard for both of them to be switched on at the same time. I’ve found that since I’ve been on the board and especially since I’ve been president, it’s been a little harder for me to get into my photography groove. In addition to the photography, I also do soundtracks for animation and I have done some of that during these three years. But I love my photography and am actually looking forward to my time off the board to jump back in. I come from a long line of photographers. And I have crazy deep Detroit roots, my family goes back to the late 1700s here. We have pictures of them, too, so we were taking pictures way back.
What’s an interesting place you liked to shoot?
It’s hard to pick, there’s two things. So when I first started, I worked in the Buhl Building on the 19th floor at a law firm. The detail on the buildings that were right across the street from us were so beautiful. And I was like, most people don’t get to see this because you don’t get up in these buildings to see all this detail. So that was one of the things that kind of got me going. But I lived downtown for a couple years in the building that used to be called Trolley Plaza (now Detroit City Apartments), and one of my favorite things to do was get up really, really early in the morning and go walking through near-empty streets. This was a few years back before downtown was more busy. And I just loved to stand in the middle of the streets and take shots of what looked like deserted streets.
What takes up your time outside of the Scarab Club?
I love noir film. I watch a lot of that and then have discussions about it. Like, Sunday night noir, that’s a thing. I haven’t done anything recently but I have also done some acting locally and modeling locally. I am supposed to model for an artist at some point in the next month or so, she’s a fiber artist. I have a 9-to-5 job (as a legal assistant at Troy law firm Novara Tesija Catenacci McDonald & Baas PLLC).
I saw you did a long-form interview on your history with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Could you talk about that part of your life a bit?
So I come from a prominent local Jehovah’s Witness family and when I graduated from high school I went into full-time working with them. I did a local ministry for four years and then I went to work for their headquarters (in New York) for 10 years. And then in the course of being there and working in their publishing area … as time went on I found it to be very not friendly toward women and rather cultish, and I ended up making a break with them. While I was in the organization, which I was raised in it, creativity was not encouraged. Higher education was not encouraged. A lot of things that involved your own self-expression were not encouraged. (At the headquarters) I had a position, I was over the proofreading department but technically couldn’t be over it because I was a woman. So, a lot of things came to a head when I was there because, technically, I couldn’t shut down a (printing) press because I was technically a woman. But I’m the one that found the error. But I need to call a man and the man needs to shut down the press. So, yeah. Don’t get me started on that. … So when I came out of it, I was about 40 and I was kind of like a teenager experiencing a lot of freedom for the first time. (Rofick is now 56.) And it kind of made me fearless, though, because I was 40, so it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, let’s try this, let’s try that.’ And at the time, it was me and my husband, Carlton Wilson, who also came out of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was just a fun time to kind of explore things that we didn’t have time for when we were deeply involved with that. He got more into his artwork … We kind of encouraged each other on. He’s actually the one that was like, ‘Let’s go to the Scarab Club.’
Read all the conversations at crainsdetroit.com/theConversation
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