Detroit’s Offer to Creatives – Space, Food and Time


Matthew Neagle
Michigan Future Inc.

The revival of Detroit is happening, slowly but surely.  The best indicator is the pulse of the so-called “creative class” that are typically the first to re-enter and re-catalyze an urban area.

This weekend, I met up with a friend who is a prototype of the creative class – an artist and musician who organizes underground music events, plays shows on tours around the country , and works freelance as a computer programmer.  And, he has been living in downtown Detroit for almost ten years.  He is living the pulse.

His response to why Detroit is a great place to be an artist – space, food, and time.

For 1/4 the cost of a renting a single room in Chicago or New York, my friend has a stunning and raw 1000 square loft with 20 foot high ceilings that he shares with one other person.  For a quarter the cost, he gets 10 times the space in Detroit.   He has all the room he needs to live, to create music and art, and to put on events in his space.

Untrue to the common gripe about no grocery stores in Detroit, my friend is within walking distance to fresh, local, inexpensive food 365 days a year at Eastern Market, the largest open air market in the country.  In fact, this weekend, bell peppers were selling 5 for a dollar – can’t beat that.

Unless, of course, you are growing it yourself.   My friend also had a vegetable garden outside his building, one of an increasing number of urban gardens and farms in Detroit.   Detroit can now offer the cultural value of urbanity with the space and sustenance of rural living.

With less cost needed to sustain himself, he has more time for his creative pursuits.   The economics of creative work, for those that want a raw urban experience, make sense right now.

And, more and more people are taking up the offer.   My friend said the pulse is changing – Detroit is much better than it was 5 years ago and significantly better than when he arrived almost 10 years ago.

Finally Detroit, the first movie ever released in theaters that shows the positive side of life in Detroit opens November 6th. Prepare yourself for 90 minutes of fall-out-of-your-seat laughter as filmmaker and loyal Detroiter Robert Phelps introduces his new comedy “Stick It In Detroit.”

This award-winning, critically acclaimed, raw, in-your-face comedy epitomizes the roll-up-your-sleeves, never-say-die, do-it-yourself Detroit spirit and promises to be the most fun you will have at the movies all year.

Hoping to help reverse the negative stereotype that Detroit has garnered in movies over the past three decades and against all odds, director Robert Phelps set out on a seven-year journey, sacrificing everything to make the film that would show the world the Detroit he knows and loves, the one that is a great place to live and work, the one full of family, friends and most importantly, laughter.

“I am very proud of my city. It is a beautiful city full of amazing people. I’m sick of how it’s portrayed in movies, so I wanted to make a film that the people of Detroit can identify with, relate to and be proud of. Most importantly, I wanted to make a movie in which Detroiters can forget about their problems and just laugh for 90 minutes straight,” said Phelps.

“Stick It in Detroit” is 100% made in Detroit, by Detroit and for Detroit. “This is Detroit’s movie. It is not going to change the perception of our city overnight, but every positive project counts, and eventually, if we support these projects, we can do it and have a lot of fun in the process.”

“Stick It In Detroit” opens in theaters beginning Friday, November 6th, only at MJR Theaters: Waterford Cinema 16, Marketplace Sterling Heights Cinema 20 and Southgate Cinema 20.




Forbes has released its annual "America's Safest Cities" list and Detroit ranks 12 in the nation!  Mind you, just a year and a half ago, Forbes listed Detroit as the most dangerous city in the U.S.  Oh, how times have changed!  The cities were ranked based on the lowest rate of violent crimes, workplace deaths, fatal crashes, and natural disasters.


Below is how Detroit measures up:

Workplace Fatality Rate: 4th
Traffic Death: 10th
Natural Disaster: 8th
Violent Crime:  40 out of 40




Lee Mergner
Jazz Times

The Kresge Foundation, in conjunction with Kresge Arts in Detroit, announced that jazz trumpeter Marcus Belgrave is the 2009 Kresge Eminent Artist. That award also comes with a $50,000 prize. The Detroit-based Belgrave has gotten a lot of awards and grants over the years, but he told JT that this one was special. “It’s one I didn’t expect, that’s for sure.” It turns out that he knew he had been nominated, but after attending a gathering of various artists in the running for the award, he ruled himself out. “I saw so many gifted artists of all genres, not just music, so I didn’t think I had a chance.”

The Kresge Eminent Artist Award recognizes an exceptional artist in the visual, performing, or literary arts for his or her professional achievements and contributions to the cultural community, and encourages that individual’s pursuit of a chosen art form as well as an ongoing commitment to Metropolitan Detroit. The award is unrestricted and is given annually to one artist who has lived and worked in Wayne, Oakland, or Macomb Counties for a significant number of years. The first-ever Kresge Eminent Artist Award was presented last year to Detroit visual artist Charles McGee. The Eminent Artist Award is administered by the College for Creative Studies. The award recipient is selected by an independent review panel composed of prominent artists and arts professionals from the Detroit area.

Michelle Perron, director of Kresge Arts in Detroit, acknowledged that Belgrave was a natural choice for the award in its second year. “The award recognizes someone who has exemplified outstanding achievement in the arts field, as well as contributed to the Detroit area community. His impact in this community has been so outstanding for many years, not only as a musician but also as an educator.” She confirmed that there are no strings to the award. “This award recognizes his lifelong work and commitment.”

Belgrave himself attributes the award to his lifelong devotion to education in the community. “They knew that if they gave the money to me that I’m going to keep on doing what I been doing.” Indeed, Belgrave has been dedicated to teaching jazz to young people, both informally and formally, since around 1970.

Born and raised in Chester, Pa., Belgrave has been a fixture of the Detroit music community since he settled there in 1963. He told JT that he had his eye on the city for many years. “I was very close with Clifford Brown, who lived in Wilmington, Delaware, not far from me. He became my first mentor. I was trying to play jazz but, you know, I didn’t know what I was doing. He wrote out my first solo for me, for ‘How High the Moon.’ Yes, he opened up my ears.” Belgrave simply couldn’t imagine someone playing the trumpet better than Brown (a sentiment matched by many a trumpet player, past and present). “But these other guys would tell me, ‘Oh yea? There’s a guy in Detroit who plays circles around Clifford.’ I thought to myself, ‘Who was this guy?’ It turned out to be Thad Jones. So I knew that Detroit had a real strong music scene. I got to know him later when I was with Ray Charles and he was with Count Basie.”

Performing with Ray Charles for almost four years was a watershed experience for Belgrave, who had met Charles in Wichita, Kansas and sat in with the band. But it wasn’t until Charles had a three-week engagement in the Chester area that Belgrave was asked to join the band. “The last night he was there, he called me in to be a part of the band, because the trumpet player had had enough,” said Belgrave, laughing. Several years later, Belgrave would have a similar feeling. But he doesn’t harbor any ill feelings about his tenure with the great singer. “Those were beautiful days.” When he left Charles’ band he wanted to find a place where he could make a living without being on the road for months at a time. It was around 1962 and the Motown label was in full swing. Belgave did sessions with the label and when that work dried up, he started looking for other outlets for his talents. “I had worked so hard and lived so hard, I was ready to settle down.”

His conversion to the field of jazz education came in 1970, during a difficult time physically. He had been ill in the hospital and when he was released, he had some time on his hands without an instrument. “The doctor told me, ‘I know you’re not going to give up playing, but you have to give it up for at least three months.’ I lasted two! But it was during that time that I started teaching. And I took to it. It seemed like a natural thing to hook up with talented kids.” Talented they were. Among his students are some of the most accomplished players on the contemporary jazz scene, including Geri Allen, Regina Carter, James Carter, Bob Hurst, Rodney Whitaker and Kenny Garrett, all of whom are quick to publicly acknowledge their debt to their mentor. In an Overdue Ovation profile of Belgrave in JT in 1994, Regina Carter told Jim Dulzo that Belgrave had and continues to have a unique relationship with his former students. “He is like baby’s milk,” Carter explained. “He’s like a nutrient, like a parent. It was just so important to us as young people to really get a firm grasp on the music and come to it in a way that is fun and enjoyable.”

It’s clear in talking with Belgrave about his former students that he gets much pride and pleasure from the relationships. Belgrave said about Garrett that, “He asked more questions than any other student. He’s always trying to learn more. Did you know that he learned Japanese and now he’s learning Chinese? Oh lord. At one point he was working with Miles and he would call me up and ask me for advice. I told him, “You’re playing with Miles Davis—ask him!”

During the ‘70s, Belgrave worked as a musician and teacher with the late Harold McKinney and his organization Metropolitan Arts, but eventually formed his own organization, the Jazz Development Workshop, where many of the aforementioned artists got their early jazz training. Belgrave felt that his program made a difference in the city. “It was a positive thing for Detroit. There are a lot of dedicated teachers in the city—like Ernie Rogers and Dan Pruitt. But it seems like the schools are in such a state of decline, they just don’t get a chance.” Belgrave himself never taught formally in the Detroit school system, preferring to work on his own with students who wanted to learn from a master. Looking back on his teaching experiences, Belgrave attributed whatever impact he had on the students to the simple message that he delivered. “I let them know that they can really play. I think they knew it anyway. But I found that I was able to impart my own knowledge, direction and guidance to them.”

I asked him if he ever regretted settling in Detroit, where he became known more as an educator than as a musician. “No, no. I spent a year and a half in New York City. I worked and played with so many greats. I played on records with Mingus and Donald Byrd. I was in contact with all the musicians. I put in my dues. But it’s a hectic place. You can get in trouble there!”

In addition to his work as an educator in the Detroit music community, Belgrave also teaches jazz at Oberlin College, along with Wendell Logan, Gary Bartz, Robin Eubanks and Dan Wall. He enjoys teaching to these college kids who likely are very different from the inner city kids Belgrave has mentored over the years. “They seem to like my approach there.” He laments that he doesn’t get to spend more time with his fellow professors, who tend to come to the campus for different 2-3 days stretches. And Belgrave continues to be active as a performing musician. He recently toured with his wife, singer Joan Belgrave, in a show dedicated to Louis Armstrong. He performs and records regularly in the Detroit area and is a founding member of the Detroit Jazz Musicians Co-Op. Recently, Belgrave represented Detroit as part of the Lincoln Center Motor City Jazz Masters tribute which Included Yusef Lateef, Curtis Fuller, Charles McPherson, and Ron Carter.

Belgrave has no concrete plans for using the money from the award. He does want to explore the music of his family’s roots in Barbados. And he’s looking forward to doing the 2010 Jazz Party at Sea, which will make stops in the Caribbean, not far from his family’s origins. “I want to see if that music is still in my blood.”

David Runk
The Huffington Post

A photographer and an architect plan to freeze one of Detroit's thousands of abandoned homes this winter, encasing it in ice to draw attention to foreclosures that have battered the region.

The project from Gregory Holm and Matthew Radune, dubbed Ice House Detroit, is the latest example of the remnants of Detroit's population loss and industrial decline serving as both artistic inspiration and canvas.
"I've been really fascinated by the whole mythology of Detroit and the structures and what they represent," said Holm, who grew up on the city's east side and lived in the suburb of Hamtramck from 1997 until moving to New York City four years ago.

Holm, 38, plans to photograph the transformation of the house, which will be sprayed with water and gradually covered in ice. In the spring, crews will salvage what building materials can be reused and demolish the home. The lot will be donated, probably for a community garden.

The Detroit area has a foreclosure rate that's among the nation's highest, and Radune said the city offers a unique backdrop for the artists' work.

"It's a project that couldn't be done in the same way in New York City and it wouldn't necessarily make the same sense," said Radune, a 32-year-old freelance architect in Brooklyn who also is a DJ. "Detroit was a place where we could make it into more than architectural installation."

Holm and Radune are working to raise $11,000 online to fund the project, mostly for costs related to demolition, and hope to soon figure out where in the city they'll freeze a home.

Detroit, which has shrunk from a population of 1.8 million in the 1950s to half that now, has tens of thousands of vacant homes and buildings.


Read more at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/10/27/ice-house-detroit-artists_n_335031.html

It's Detroit's distinctive history that makes it so resonant for this kind of work," said John Beardsley, an adjunct professor with Harvard's Graduate School of Design. "It was a go-go city that in recent years has been identified as gone.

"This is not to say that Detroit can't come back, but there is a particular poignance to this history."

One deteriorating Detroit neighborhood became the outdoor art gallery for Tyree Guyton, whose more than two-decade-old Heidelberg Project has drawn international attention. Guyton transformed the houses, streets and lots with his colorful polka-dot art and collections of stuffed animals, shoes and old appliances.

More recently, a group calling itself Object Orange painted the shells of crumbling Detroit buildings bright orange to call attention to the city's blight and decay.

Radune developed the idea for Ice House while studying architecture at Rice University in Houston. After talking it over with Holm earlier this year, they decided to collaborate. A book and film about the project also are planned.

Toby Barlow
The New York Times


I was recently sitting at the bar of Le Petit Zinc talking to the owner, Charles Sorel, when he said something I found shocking: “I can’t imagine opening a business anywhere but Detroit.”

From a local, I would have just written it off as city pride, but Charles is, as he himself puts it, a citizen of the world. Born in the French Caribbean and reared in Paris, he ran a French joint in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene and lived in Brazil before winding up here. When I pointed out the risks of starting up in a city as troubled as Detroit, he shrugged it off. “When I moved to New York in the late ’80s there was not a day when someone in the city wasn’t robbed or beaten or killed,” he said. “This is so much better than that.”

A year ago, Charles opened Le Petit Zinc with the simple belief that there was a market here for a crêperie and cafe that served fresh organic food at a decent price. But that was certainly no guarantee of success. Not only was the economy cratering, but the building itself, an abandoned day care center tucked between a working-class Irish neighborhood called Corktown and a few abandoned warehouses, was on a street with no foot traffic. The only thing the place had going for it was a rundown playground out back that was good for outdoor seating. For the first five weeks after opening, when he was the cook, waiter, busboy and janitor, he had no idea what to expect.

Now, we are all raised to think of business as a sort of vicious spy-versus-spy, cutthroat activity where every competing establishment is out to stick a shiv into the other. You’d think that this kind of blood thirst would be even worse in Detroit, which — with Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance, Eminem’s lyrics and our old, quaint Devil’s Night tradition of burning down houses — has acquired a certain reputation for toughness. But Charles discovered that the neighboring Detroit restaurants actually had quite a different reaction to a new competitor.

The owner of Slows, a barbecue place nearby, not only helped him get his permits, but also built tabletops for him at no cost. Jordi, the owner of the Cafe con Leche coffee shop, hooked him up with his coffee supplier. Dave, who had recently opened Supino Pizza, even dropped everything one day to get the paper Charles needed for his credit card machine.

Most surprisingly, just as Charles was starting up, Torya Blanchard was opening another downtown crêpe place called Good Girls Go to Paris. Instead of treating Charles like a rival, Torya happily exchanged recipes with him, even coming in one day to help make his batter, an act of crêperie solidarity that would surely have made Detroit’s founder, Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac, extremely proud.

“They want their neighbor to make it,” he says. “It’s different from anywhere I’ve been. Here, your success is their success.” Even his suppliers have shown a generosity he finds surprising: the Avalon bakery charges him wholesale prices even if he orders just one loaf.

In other ways, too, Charles seems to have timed things well, opening just when Detroit residents with an agricultural bent were beginning to take advantage of the 40 square miles of unoccupied open land here, an area almost the size of San Francisco. Greg Willerer, for instance, sells Charles spinach, flowers and zucchini at an affordable price, all grown within the city limits. Charles also planted his own garden out by the patio, putting in tomatoes, basil, peppers, thyme, parsley and beets.

Maybe it’s that adage that nothing brings a community closer than having a common enemy. For the restaurateurs, the residents, the urban farmers and the community activists now working to reshape the city, the enemy is Detroit’s own reputation. They know they will succeed only if they are a part of a larger, collective success, one that makes downtown a thriving destination again, and so they’re working together to make it happen.

Which leads to another entrepreneurial advantage Detroit possesses: instantaneous and automatic publicity. “Open a business anywhere else, and no one will notice,” Charles said. “Open it in Detroit and everyone talks about it.”

Sure enough, people are now driving in regularly from affluent suburbs like Bloomfield Hills and Grosse Pointe to try his smoked-salmon crêpes and ratatouille, a considerable achievement considering many suburbanites come downtown only for Tigers games or a night at the symphony. While I was there, the place was bustling with a diverse crowd that seemed more than satisfied.

“This is the best restaurant ever. I would eat here all the time if I had more money,” beamed a woman dining alone at the bar.

“Somebody send that lady a dessert!” shouted Charles with a smile.

Toby Barlow is the author of “Sharp Teeth.”


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