|Kaitlyn and Ryan Lawless of Corbé.|
A ceramic artist fires a plate in an industrial kiln in her bright studio loft, overlooking a community garden and a row of hip bustling eateries. This isn’t New York City. It’s Michigan.
There are parallel timelines in the history of Detroit. The popular version that gave the metropolis its “Motor City “ moniker and ended in bankruptcy and desertion is just one side of the story. Tell me if you’ve heard this one: the booming auto industry propelled the population to a whopping 1.85 million at its peak in 1950, providing over 296,000 manufacturing jobs, only to leave Detroit a rust and scrap metal graveyard, dependent on government handouts.
Sit back, put on some rose-tinted glasses and a Diana Ross LP, and let me tell you another version.
While industrialization and prosper gave way to plant closures and government scandal, a culture rich with music and arts maintained a constant, unwavering influence in the city. Detroit is the home of Motown Records, the birthplace of techno, and a driving force in the early-80s punk scene. The Detroit Institute of the Arts and The Scarab Club are centenarian fixtures in the community, a defunct GM design lab now houses the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, and The Heidelberg Project celebrates its 30th year.
It’s been said that hardship and suffering are artist-making. That the emotional aftermath of trauma makes beautiful music, and art that hits you in the feels. If there’s truth to it, Detroit embodies the tortured artist. In the wake of its collective financial suffering, the city has taken comfort in a steady old friend: the arts.
And what are abandoned buildings if not blank canvases? Who better to revive a city, while preserving its bones and honoring its roots than the artists and the makers?
Former NYC mayor, Michael Bloomberg, once told a group of business grads:
"Detroit is like New York City back in the ‘70s. When everybody had written us off, there were people who believed.
I believe. Detroit is one of my favorite cities, and home to some of my best memories. I have a knack for spotting the potential in fixer-uppers – the city is just another curbside armoire in need of a little paint and elbow grease. Blocks of empty structures are opportunities for lush urban gardens, and endless crumbling walls are a street-artist’s dream. I see what I want to see. And it’s good.
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