Tiger’s opening day kicked off the madness, Art X kept everything lively throughout and Sunday’s 70+ degree weather was the icing on the cake. This past weekend was easily the city of Detroit’s official gateway to Spring.
There’s so much to cover with Art X. What a wonderful presentation of Detroit’s talent. Galleries, spaces and public places were packed to the gills all weekend with folks flocking to see all sorts of things– panel discussions, films, piles of shoes, flamenco dancing or jit techniques, to name a few.
Of particular interest was a panel discussion Saturday afternoon at MOCAD titled “Chronicling a City in Change.” It focused mostly on the notion of “ruin porn” and what implications it has for the city. The discussion was moderated by Toby Barlow, and participating panelists were Dr. Craig L. Wilkins, Vince Carducci, Sean Doerr, Eric Smith, Bill Gaskins and Jim Griffioen. The discussion was phenomenal, creating some real dialogue, even heated and emotional at times.
Mr. Barlow clearly thinks our ruins should be used for the sake of creating a tourism industry, allowing people to get a sense of our industrial heyday first hand while simultaneously creating a revenue source for the city. Dr. Wilkins, on the other hand, would claim it seems ridiculous to have industry built on despair. Here’s my question: would a tourism industry built around the ruins remove some of the sensationalization of despair because of the diluted sense of appeal by legalization? If five year old kids were wandering through relics of Detroit’s industrial heyday, looking at its wondrous caves and crannies, would it be as cool for photographers high on an adrenaline rush to take pictures with $15,000 cameras to then sell the images for double that?
These abandoned places, for those that have lived in Detroit for many, many years are hard to look at. They are the cast-iron indication of loss and decay. These were the places where friends and family were once employed, and now they sit left for dead. It therefore seems difficult to build a tourism industry on top of that. Equally as ridiculous is the idea of allowing countless photographers to capture images of despair that are then pumped in to the traditional media spectrum and wiped across the masses, making them the ad-hoc representative sample that becomes what people associate with Detroit– further perpetuating the idea that it Detroit is dead and gone forever.
So, where does that leave us? This was the primary pivot point of the panel discussion.
This is where creativity and strategy should come in to play. There are certainly ways we can use these buildings and we should seek to employ at a municipal level administrators that can tackle these issues. Urban planners, architects and artists have convened in other cities to produce impressive results under similar circumstances. One such place we could look for help is Cleveland and a woman named Terry Schwarz, who I wrote about lat week. She works as the director of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and is most concerned with funneling parts of the city’s industrial past (warehouses, factories and remnants of heavy manufacturing) in to their current planning and design aesthetic. Have a look at last week’s interview for some specific ways they use these spaces that we could emulate here in Detroit.
Whatever the argument in such a difficult topic, the overall point is that the the weekend created a lot of dialogue around some really important things in Detroit– our talent, our future direction and the idea of just getting out and having fun on a warm Spring day. Ultimately, it is experiences like this that will put us on fertile grounds to start making intelligent and creative decisions about how to best position ourselves in the future.