The Null Device

The future artists' colony of Detroit?

The city of Detroit has seen more than its share of misfortune; hollowed out by the slow decline of the US car industry, it has already been synonymous with post-industrial urban decline, even before the oil crunch and the Great Recession. Now, however, the economically depressed conditions are apparently bringing in artists, drawn to Detroit by the rock-bottom real-estate prices (think $100 houses, albeit in need of work), faded grandeur of near-mythical proportions and potential for experimentation and regeneration:
Buying that first house had a snowball effect. Almost immediately, Mitch and Gina bought two adjacent lots for even less and, with the help of friends and local youngsters, dug in a garden. Then they bought the house next door for $500, reselling it to a pair of local artists for a $50 profit. When they heard about the $100 place down the street, they called their friends Jon and Sarah.
Admittedly, the $100 home needed some work, a hole patched, some windows replaced. But Mitch plans to connect their home to his mini-green grid and a neighborhood is slowly coming together.
But the city offers a much greater attraction for artists than $100 houses. Detroit right now is just this vast, enormous canvas where anything imaginable can be accomplished. From Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project (think of a neighborhood covered in shoes and stuffed animals and you’re close) to Matthew Barney’s “Ancient Evenings” project (think Egyptian gods reincarnated as Ford Mustangs and you’re kind of close), local and international artists are already leveraging Detroit’s complex textures and landscapes to their own surreal ends.
It'll be interesting to see what happens; will Detroit's new artist-settlers find their dreams foundering, turn tail and run, or will they succeed? Will Detroit become a new East Berlin, attracting artists and then scenesters, then showing up in boutique tourist guidebooks as the new hip destination, until eventually the process is completed and the well-off and aspirational move in, most of the artists are priced out of it and move on in search of another locus?

There are 2 comments on "The future artists' colony of Detroit?":

Posted by: Greg Fri Mar 20 11:27:55 2009

Good lord, is gentrification like a law of nature or something now?

Posted by: acb Fri Mar 20 17:38:48 2009

Not necessarily, though it tends to follow areas becoming and remaining "cool" (see also: "The Rebel Sell"). Assuming, of course, that the economy is in good shape; downturns can interrupt the process (apparently, were it not for the Paul Keating Recession We Had To Have in the 1990s, Brunswick Street would have turned into Chapel Street by 1995 or so).

Or, as a graffito in dot-com-era San Francisco read, "artists are the shock troops of gentrification".