Surviving with “The D” – Can Detroit Endure as a Social Art Experiment? Why Not

101806oldeenglishdDetroit has fallen on more than its share of strange times in recent months, but the museum was bustling this past week with the Norman Rockwell exhibition drawing over 10,000 visitors in its first week and the DIA’s theater filled on Tuesday for an evening program with South African artist William Kentridge. All this good energy has been a boost for staff here at the DIA, who have spent the last few weeks trying to regroup from a recent restructuring here at the museum.

As the news gets grimmer and grimmer, and the city maintains a high, but not exactly desirable profile in the media, keeping your chin up here in the Motor City seems to be nothing short of a challenge.

I recently heard from New York-based photographer Bruce Gilden who stopped by the museum for lunch last Friday. He wanted to tell me about his recent series on foreclosures in America and found Detroit to be one of the most unusual of American cities – with entire neighborhoods nearly abandoned.

As someone who grew up on Detroit’s east side in the late 1960s and 1970s, the thought of my old neighborhood turning into a ghost town was not entirely unbelievable, until last night when I saw Detroit artist Mitch Cope on CNN talking to Wes Anderson about buying up homes in Detroit. It is part of Cope’s and his wife’s, the architect Gina Reichert, mission to stage a long-term social art experiment here in the city. Photos and conceptual statements are at his website – It’s not a story unfamiliar to us locals, as artist Tyree Guyton began his  Heidelberg Project in 1986 to clean up another Detroit neighborhood. Is the city on its way to becoming a “vast, enormous canvas” as one NYTimes writer noted recently? I think so.

One response to “Surviving with “The D” – Can Detroit Endure as a Social Art Experiment? Why Not

  1. I had not heard about Mitch Cope’s project; but there’s a general “buzz” (for want of better word) about Detroit. It’s even gotten into jocular humor – more than one friend of mine in NYC, when talk is about something frustrating like the cost of living, rent, etc. will say, “I’m just going to move to Detroit . . .”

    There was also an essay about Detroit by Rebecca Solnit in Harpers which dealt w/ among other things, urban farming. My sense is the extremes of Detroit are also inspiring new ways of addressing the situations at hand in pragmatic & visionary manners.

    As someone from Detroit, who has spent most of his adult life away from it, my experiences in re-encountering Detroit are imbued w/ a sense of the ruination of my memories, which is entirely personal on one hand, but also involves re-learning a city. There’s so much that is truly compelling: I guess I would perceive the situation of Detroit as being an example of the effects of globalization on home turf. Closer to home than usual. The antipathy in the response to bail-outs for the Big 3 (unlike the response to bail-outs for Wall St) underscored a sense of Detroit being “over” & ready to be discarded, yet it is still a large city w/ different & varied potentials. Curious.

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