Detroit IV: Working Artists in Detroit
September 8, 2013

One of the absolute main highlights of my Detroit trip was meeting and visiting with artists who have transplanted to the city.  Taking advantage of declining property values, some artists from other cosmopolitan areas (including Brooklyn and Oakland) have moved to Detroit, purchased property (without mortgages), and transformed their homes into live/work spaces and site-specific installations.  In doing so, these artists have managed to turn rows of homes that had been used as informal brothels and crack houses into a neighborhood, complete with an ingrained community watch system.

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Indeed

The architects and urban revitalization specialists behind Design 99 have managed to orchestrate one such community.  Their non-profit, Powerhouse Productions, teamed up with Juxtapoz magazine in 2009 to purchase several houses in the neighborhood which were then given over to artists, Swoon, Retna, Monica Canilao, Richard Colman, Saelee Oh, and Ben Wolf, to renovate and recreate.  Each house has been given a descriptive name, and now either provides living space for artists and visitors or exists as a site-specific installation.

Here is Treasure Nest, Monica Canilao’s creation.  Doyle (creator of Gon Kirin) and Harrison kindly showed us around.

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Exterior of Treasure Nest

Here’s the house that Swoon worked on, featuring her powerful life-size wheatpaste figures.

of Swoon's installed work

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Houses are also being transformed into community spaces.  Here is Play House, a house that is being renovated into a theater space for Detroit-based theater companies to engage with the audience through performances and public programs.

Other artists, including Sarah Wagner and Jon Brumit, have moved into the neighborhood.  Jon is working with the house painted by Retna and Richard Colman.  Installing several of his sound pieces, the codex-covered silver and black house is now simply called Sound House.  Jon explained that one of the first pieces he created in Sound House was a response to the 'language’ on the walls, by ‘scoring’ the visual characters into sound compositions.  A sound installation involving both low and high frequencies emanates from within the interior of the house, the murmurs palpable as I laid down on the floor.

In this community, art is effecting real social change.

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Retna's codex inscribed on Sound House