As part of its continuing decline as a newspaper, the NYTimes has been publishing articles about Detroit. For the most part they have characterized the city as an empty, burned out husk waiting for "creatives" and "entrepreneurial leadership" to come and rescue it. Between this call for a neoliberal land grab, and the flood of ruin porn images of the city, a NYTimes reader would be shocked to know that there are people living and working in the city - people who have no patience for the urban frontier language of capital, or the myth of the artist going to the wild to create. The experience Detroit as a real inhabited place, not as Machu Picchu and not as inspiration for young Gauguins to write their version of Noa Noa.
So I got in touch with a variety of Detroiters: some lifers, some late comers, some artists, some in public health, some in media, and some in finance. To a person they knew about the NYTimes articles and the discussion around their city. From time to time, I will publish their replies to my inquiries about Detroit.
I asked them, "What would you tell an artist who wants to move to Detroit?"
James Keith LaCroix
Hey, Steve. Great to hear from you. I'd love to offer you a thoughtful, well-written response. This isn't it -- but I will send one soon.
As I'm sure you know, Detroit has piqued the artistic interests of the world for decades from artists and art of the arts and craft movement like those of the Pewabic Pottery and early Cranbrook through Motown, the MC5 and the poetry and social activism of John Sinclair, Techno, to the experimental language poetry of what I'll call the "Cass Corridor scene" and beyond to this day. Detroit is as much an empty frontier as this country was pre-Columbus -- and any assumptions that it is have at least a whiff of arrogant neocolonialism to them. Our empty frontier is peopled with motley artists, musicians, and writers more or less making art for art's sake without much other commercial interest than buying the materials for their work and working, eating, and living indoors.
One of my best friends here, James Hart, III, curates poetry readings here -- and exports readings to culture starved burgs like New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco where avant-garde Detroit artists seem to be as hip as jazz artist were in Europe and later Japan. To paraphrase the notorious bandit in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, "Change from outsiders? We don't need no stink in' change from outsiders." Detroit isn't a cultureless bum shaking a cup for their outside change. Perhaps our cup doesn't runneth over, but their are artists and groups who fill it with treasures in drops, trickles and even a steady flow.
If an artist wants to move to Detroit, they should ask themselves why. Most of the good , cheap real estate has been bought and space in the hipper areas like Woodbridge is selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- if you can still find a property. Our score of scenes and circles find themselves in competition for our small audience. The only reason for an artist to come here is that they love or have fallen in love with the city. I know a few of these people, some from Europe, and they're here because this is the only place that they can make the work they want to make. They're not art missionaries who've come to give the natives culture or venture adventurists looking to get in on some burned-out, abandoned ground floor. They're people who love Detroit like others love NYC or San Francisco. I'll let you know about out restless natives. There's a tribe of them.
Love to you,
James Keith LaCroix is a musician, poet, and an emergency medical technician. He lives in Detroit, Michigan.