Young Cultural Innovator Builds New Relationships in Detroit

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Apr 07, 2020
by Oscar Tollast
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Young Cultural Innovator Builds New Relationships in Detroit

Christopher Yepez a.k.a. Sacramento Knoxx uses funding distributed by Salzburg Global to explore new methods of innovation and collaboration Christopher Yepez received funding to organize several activities under his heartbeats:hood2hood project in 2017 and 2018

A young cultural innovator based in Detroit, Michigan, has led a collaborative project designed to help improve the quality of life for future generations living in the city.

Christopher Yepez, a rapper, also known as Sacramento Knoxx, received support from Salzburg Global Seminar and The Kresge Foundation to organize several activities under his heartbeats:hood2hood project in 2017 and 2018. The project recognizes the powerful use of connection and technology to improve ecosystems.

Knoxx is a musician and filmmaker who helps direct the organization 'The Aadizookaan,' an indigenous-based multimedia arts collective. He received financial support after attending the third program of the Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators in 2016. The project had several partners for different activities and events.

Three community concerts were held at high schools, reaching 120 students in the Detroit area. These concerts took place through a partnership with the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion.

Students were educated on race and housing in Detroit through music, performance, and the heartbeats curriculum. Knoxx said, "The partnership allowed us to combine Michigan Roundtable's mobile exhibit "We Don't Want Them," which focused on the history of race and housing in Detroit and how that impacts their current communities now, combined our literacy and cultural music work."

Knoxx and heartbeats also worked with We Found Hip Hop and the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to program their curriculum and help host Dilla Youth Day. This day inspired 250 young learners from across the city to explore science, technology, engineering, arts, and math disciplines through participatory design with interactive beat making and sound design.

During the project, Knoxx has been able to build relationships with architecture and design teams helping to reshape the fabric and development in Detroit. He said, "It's very important as we contribute our cultural work and community organizing to ensure an equitable Detroit with design and culture. As we face a high portion of displacement and discrimination in a city with a robust history of [the] racialization of space and now the spatialization of race, building those critical relationships with architecture is very important in shifting the culture where humans can live healthy with not only each other but the earth as well."

Knoxx sees many ways for the project to give back to the community, including by contributing resources and tools to help with storytelling and growing talent for youth, adults, and elders. He said, "We have fostered relationships with media technologists, architects, educators, designers, and practitioners of health and wellness to launch our heartbeats initiative with multiple Detroit community partners and individuals that will continue to build [a] legacy through the support of Salzburg."

His participation in the YCI Forum enabled him to connect the dots and develop the project. Knoxx said, "Visiting and hopping over cultural barriers across the globe with the YCI Forum sparked the motivation to make new approaches of connection and relationships in Detroit, which sparked the idea of heartbeats, like how all of us share a heartbeat, that operates our body and is important for life."

Moving forward, Knoxx said heartbeats would have the chance to expand into a couple of community-owned spaces for arts, culture, education, health, and wellness. Plans are also in place to work with other music-based programs in school and community organizations. He said, "With this challenge of building space and developing land, it sharpens us to emerge new leaders and new relationships for building community and innovating the culture with youth, adults, and elders."

Since embarking on this project, Knoxx has seen young artists emerging onto the arts and culture scene in Detroit with their individual styles. "We're continuing to support our collective efforts within many capacities, ranging from intimate builds to large scale productions. I would like to work within a heartbeats capacity across native communities and reservations across North America, bringing music technology and well-being together to create change and beauty," he said.

"We're also engaging in many grassroots activities, so when there is support like this to help us execute and carry on the vision, it is truly amazing and appreciated," said Knoxx.


The Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators empowers rising talents in the creative sector to drive social, economic and urban change. Launched in 2014, it is building a global network of 500 competitively-selected change-makers in "Hub" communities who design collaborative projects, build skills, gain mentors, and connect to upcoming innovators in their cities and countries.

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