“Wringing Art Out of Rubble in Detroit”

It must be that time of year again… The New York Times today has another story on how artists are revitalizing Detroit. It’s actually a pretty good article. I don’t mean to come across as cynical. It’s just that, for the past few years, it seems like this same story keeps getting recycled. The good news is, every time the story gets retold, the list of active projects that they talk about grows. At first, as I recall, it was just Design 99, and the work of Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert that was getting attention, but, now, a few years later, perhaps due in part to that early coverage, there’s exponentially much more being discussed. In this particular story, they hit on everything from The Roosevelt Park Imagination Station to Loveland, with a smattering of urban agriculture thrown in, a reference to Banksy, and an acknowledgment of the Heldelberg Project. The thing I found of particular interest was the reference to an event called Soup… Here, on that subject, is a clip from the article:

The latest must-go event in this gritty, left-behind city — where D.J.’s flourish among ruins, trespassing in tumbledown buildings is part of a night out, and even garage rock is bare-bones — centers on soup.

Soup, as it’s known, is a monthly gathering, held above the MexicanTown Bakery in southwestern Detroit, where guests pay $5 for a homemade bowlful, salad (locally grown, to be sure) and dessert, and sit at tables made of doors laid over milk crates, listening as compatriots propose projects. Creating a pocket park, organizing an artists directory and devising a surveillance-camera video montage were all on this month’s agenda. The guests vote, and the idea deemed most deserving gets the Soup dollars — a neat little way to wiki-finance creativity. Soup, which started seven months ago, has been growing steadily. The last one, on Sunday, was the largest yet…

Still, the number of people who have this creative do-gooder verve is small. The largest Soup only had 120 guests. “You can’t change a city of 800,000 with 200 people,” said Phil Cooley, an owner of the popular Slows Bar BQ in Detroit. “There’s so much work to do”…

It sounds like a brilliant concept, doesn’t it? And, I know it’s hard to tell by way of YouTube, but the soup looks good too.

[I sincerely dislike franchises, but I’m wondering if perhaps this is something that could work here in Ypsi.]

Here’s hoping all the folks doing good work in Detroit, both those mentioned in the article and those not, are able to stick with it. They’re doing important work, and deserve our support and attention.

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11 Comments

  1. Posted August 3, 2010 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    I have a room full of kids who want to do good things when they grow up. I got a kid who is 11 and can’t read–if I can teach him to read and he grows up to work at an auto shop instead of being a drug dealer, I’ll be beside myself. I applaud articles like this that look at regular folks doing good things…they are out there.

    (I’ve noticed that I’ve been talking about the kiddos a lot lately…I must miss those crazy little buggers!! :))

  2. Elf
    Posted August 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    White Hipster: “We got this.

    OK, so maybe I exaggerate a bit. Maybe they aren’t hipsters. With the exception of Tyree, though, I don’t see much diversity. This is especially true of the Soup video. I’m not criticizing their work, as it’s important, but my concern is that it might give the reader the impression that all the good stuff in Detroit is happening because of young white people coming in from elsewhere to save the day. FWIW.

  3. Knox
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    Soon, especially if we keep up the film incentives, there’s going to be a reality tv series about these people. Just you wait and see.

  4. Jen
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink

    Grand Rapids has been doing this, inspired by this group. I don’t know how successful the projects have been, but the “soups” seem to generate a regular crowd.

  5. Andy Ypsilanti
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Hey Mark, remember when we sat on that pannel discussion about Ypsi a few month back? Maybe we should propose something like this to those folks and see what kind of support we can drum up….

  6. Edward
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    If you’ve got good, interesting ideas, and you really want to make a significant impact, Detroit is the place to do it. If we could just control the crime, it would be a perfect laboratory for the arts. There’s no infrastructure, but there’s also no one to stand in your way. I like the idea that these people are self-selecting, and coming to the city. It would be cool though if we could also fund people with good ideas to come here. It would inteeresting for instance if there was a site where artists around the country could apply for funding to come here to Detroit and do interesting stuff.

  7. Posted August 4, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    Hey,

    My name is Vanessa I am one of the artists who has been facilitating and documenting soup. I encourage you guys to come out and try our soup (It is always delicious (and Vegan), plus yummy bread donated by avalon). Also, come here and talk to kate, I am sure she would love for you guys to start your own. Ypsi is only a half hour away! Come Come!

    this was a really lovely post. that I just happened to stumble upon.

    ps. to the person talking about crime in detroit, show me a major american city that doesn’t have crime. Detroit’s bark is worse then it’s bite, I’ve lived here for 5 years.

  8. Tom Perkins
    Posted August 4, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    I heard this article is the first of a series of 10 the NYTimes is doing on Detroit.

  9. Posted August 4, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the invitation, Vanessa. I’d love to come out for some soup… In the meantime, do you have a list of the projects that have been funded and what’s become of them? I’d be really interested.

    And, Andy, I’m not sure what became of that group that Eric called together. You’re right, though – this might be the kind of thing that would interest him. It would also be a good thing to have at the Freighthouse, if and when it ever reopens.

  10. Posted August 6, 2010 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    “You can’t change a city of 800,000 with 200 people.”

    Sure you can. But it takes commitment to vision that is aligned with some core principles that can be made relevant to those 800,000 – a pretty diverse bunch, actually. The group’s processes of self-reflection should come into play (and come into existence if there isn’t any). Members should be flexible within reason, accept criticism humbly, and be active and sympathetic listeners. For real, if you want art to help make social change then the goals should be clear and meaningful, and strategies pursued shouldn’t betray the vision.

  11. dragon
    Posted January 5, 2011 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    I apologize in advance if Mark has posted or commented on this before, but I found it today and it’s a really nice short take on the positives of Detroit.
    It’s done by Johnny Knoxville in three parts on youtube.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joMysMDHdb4&feature=related

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