Thursday, April 14, 2011

021: The PowerHouse Project

Design 99, the husband and wife team of Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope, have taken a formerly forclosed drug house purchased from the bank in 2008 for $1900 and spawned a neighborhood redevelopment strategy from their experience with its renovation. Their intention was to renovation the house keeping it off the grid and using artist initiatives and neighborhood participation as the volunteer workforce. 

From the PowerHouse Productions website:

"The term Power House describes two functions. First, the house is a power creator meaning it produces its own electricity from solar and wind power with an the intention of powering an additional adjacent house -- thus creating a localized power grid. Second, the term implies a kind of taking control of ones own community by becoming an example of self reliance, sustainability and creative problem solving through education, communication and increased diversification of the neighborhood. In all a place that symbolizes hopefulness and curiosity by integrating a complex web of social and artistic ideas into a neighborhood that might otherwise end up into a typical cycle of decay and criminality."

Through the PowerHouse Project, Design 99 has developed a plan for the future development of their neighborhood which is quite extensive and promises a rich and vibrant community rooted in sustainability, design, and public well being. You can read the plans for future development here

Although the Power House has been critically focused and designed, thanks in part to the participation of a architectural team from the Netherlands, 2012 Architects, many of the associated neighborhood homes which have been taken over by the artists collective which has centered around the project are less critically informed. 

The brightly painted colors and eccentrically designed fencing and landscape which illuminate the Power House and point to its drastic efforts at environmental neutrality have been hijacked in the subsequent artists houses and stripped of their poignant association. The spectacle remains, but the message has gone. 

With a critical eye and a little editing, the whole PowerHouse neighborhood would have the potential to become a generative planning model for the city. 

Saturday, April 9, 2011

020: Thank You

I would like to say thank you to Presentation Concepts Corporation of Syracuse, NY for donating the use of two projectors for the current exhibition we are holding at the Community Folk Art Center. They are a wonderful team, and I would highly recommend them for any of your audio visual needs.

Contact Info for PCC:

Phone: 888.262.7596

Friday, April 8, 2011

019: You Are Here

I have been ardently working on an exhibition with a group of art students at Syracuse University entitled "You Are Here." The exhibition explores various intersections of citizenship and art practice.  The show grew out of a year-long graduate seminar entitled Art and Civic Dialogue, led by Carrie Mae Weems, an artist of international renown and David A. Ross, the former director of The Whitney Museum and The San Francisco Museum of Art, currently Chairman of the MFA in Art Practice at the School of Visual arts in New York City. 

The exhibition represents a roster of dynamic artists working in Syracuse and beyond whose works are concerned with varying notions of social engagement.  In that spirit, the words citizenship and art are both carefully reconsidered through a diverse group of works each bringing a sense of urgency to the complex task of defining the role of art in civic dialogue.

The exhibit includes photographic installations, performance, sculpture, web-based projects, video, and a study center that anchors the ideas across disciplines. My piece deals specifically with the issues addressed in the blog.

If you are in Syracuse please come see the show. The 22nd is a closing ceremony with performances, wine and cheese!

Community Folk Art Center: 805 E. Genesee St., Syracus
Friday April 8 - Friday, April 22, 2011

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

018: The RoboCop Debate

One tweeter posts a random challenge to Mayor Bing, and it sets off one of the most engaged, vibrant, and often heated discussions about public art the city has ever held.

I have tried to outline the discussion for you below so that you can form your own opinions about the piece. I think my view is clear about this type of work which neither proposes a solution nor forces us to question our perception of or role in the greater community and how those perceptions and actions are affecting the space in which we live.

Discussing A RoboCop Statue On WDET's Craig Fahle Show from Jerry Paffendorf on Vimeo.

The project's website with link to its kickstarter page: Detroit Needs RoboCop

1. It is insulting to Detroit and to Detroiters who have lived here through the worst. The reason Detroit is the setting for Robocop is because the city is considered a hellhole. Robocop may be a man/machine who overcomes injustice, but the Detroit in that movie is no compliment. The statue would serve as a perpetual reminder that Detroit holds the distinction of being the most believable dystopia in America.

2. It's disrespectful to the police. As if there is any better symbol of a dysfunctional police force than Robocop. Good luck with your 911 response times with that statue in your front yard.

3. It's hypocritical. A major plot point in the movie is that the new “Delta City” would be built over the crime-ridden “Old Detroit.” The movie's plot does pivot on the actions of corrupt corporate overlords, but Robocop remains a tool of the corporate powers at the end. The need for a new Delta City is never in doubt.

The fact that the Imagination Station is involved is of particular interest, since co-founder and president Jeff DeBruyn has been so very vocal in the recent gentrification fear-mongering in the Corktown area (a notion that was nicely debunked by the Free Press editorial page and's Jeff Wattrick last month). Apparently it's ok to celebrate a movie that takes for granted the need for a most severe kind of gentrification in Detroit, but it's problematic when middle-class people move into a middle-class neighborhood.

Incidentally, the Detroit Works project posted “Love that Robocop trended out yesterday” on their Facebook fan page. They need to think really hard about the decision to enter into this discussion, since they are teetering on the perception of being Omni Consumer Products, the corporation responsible for making the New Detroit in the movie, themselves.

4. It proves Martha Reeves was right. When she was elected to office a major part of her agenda was to have statues of Motown stars placed around town. She said it would make people feel good. She was rightly ridiculed for this, because what Detroit needs is substantive change, not feel-good gestures, even if it is statues of actual Detroiters who made significant cultural contributions.

Of course a statue of a fictional character, conceived and created 2000 miles away from Detroit, is a great idea and if you don't like it then you should prepare yourself to be labeled a buzzkill.

5. It's the outsider's answer to the Joe Louis fist. There is a vocal group of people who can never move past the notion that the Joe Louis fist statue is a defiant gesture aimed at the suburbs, a constant reminder in the heart of downtown that they think they were told to “hit 8 Mile Road” by a Detroit mayor.

A Robocop statue, with money that will no doubt be raised primarily from outside the city limits, can be seen as the constant reminder (potentially right in the middle of one of our more vibrant neighborhoods) that Detroit will never move past its reputation as hopelessly corrupt and crime-ridden. And will be celebrated by many more non-residents than residents, for sure. Way to put a city in its place.

6. It's derivative. Public art can be hit or miss, but even when it doesn't quite work it demonstrates the creativity of a community and the openness of a population to those creative endeavors.

Placing a statue of a movie character shows little creativity, and it actually flagrantly uses somebody else's intellectual property, whether or not this particular use is legally copyrighted. It may be clever, or even ironic, in its placement, but at the end of the day it's not art.

7. It's a waste of money and manpower. The Kickstarter project seeks to raise $50,000 to make this statue. I don't doubt that is a reasonable estimate of costs for materials and manpower, and possibly administrative costs. But in a city like Detroit where $50k can make such a difference, is this really the best way to use that kind of cash? And doesn't it really squander the talents of people who could be involved in better, more creative pursuits?

Or what about projects to help the destitute in Corktown so they can get real help instead of feeling displaced from a public park?

8. It's low culture. Sure, Philadelphia has a statue of Rocky, and Milwaukee has the Bronze Fonz. But honestly, is that what we are going for? Stupid tourist attractions that appeal to connoisseurs of lowest culture? I'd argue that this is one “us too!” moment we can live without.

9. It's opportunist. The initial Tweet to the Mayor's office was a joke, and possibly the biggest error in this whole thing was the fact that someone in the Mayor's office actually deigned to reply to it (props again to Jeff Wattrick for that observation). But now it's become the movement of the moment, and it just seems a bit opportunist to take ownership of the idea.

It certainly will be plenty of publicity for the Imagination Station whether this gets funded or not – heck, they're already on Detroit Public Radio today to talk about it. Then again, maybe that's the idea? In which case Jerry Paffendorf (whom I like very much personally, by the way) continues to prove himself one of the savviest marketers in the Detroit area.

10. It will add an entirely new dimension to train station ruin porn. Tired of pictures of the Michigan Central Station? If this goes up in front of the Imagination Station, located across the street from the train station, you can expect to be seeing a lot more MCS ruin porn in the years to come.
One undeniably good thing that has come from the debate:

017: The Heidelberg Project

From their website:

"The focus of the Heidelberg Project is rooted in the need to improve the under-resourced and horribly blighted Detroit community where the project was founded.

We continue this mission, as we began, by providing hope and inspiration to local children through art and education programs and hands-on workshops.

The HP works with neighborhood children to educate them on art, community and environment. These children walk to school past burned-out houses, rubble, debris, crime and decay. Our purpose is to offer them another view, another perspective - to positively change the environment the children see every day. In the process, we help build self-esteem, encourage cooperation and foster a sense of pride in their community. The HP continues to work with local students throughout Metro Detroit through the ACE2 program and guided tours."

images from: the heidelberg project: home sweet home
Dustin Downing

The Heidelberg Project is one of Detroit's most famous public works of art. It has been lauded for transforming the area in which it operates, making it a much safer neighborhood, and for inspiring the creation of ACE2 which works with local student's to supplement their educations with art related curriculum. As a believer in collective public art, I can get behind the motives for creating the HP. I understand how painting polka dots on an abandoned building somehow makes it less frightening and affixing stuffed animals softens the facade of a burnt out home and makes it more tolerable. I have to question, however, how this kind of art which draws attention to the problem with out proposing a sustainable solution really effects the quality of life in the city. Yes, the Heidelberg is safer, but only because we have made a spectacle out of the problem. The captivated tourist is staring at amazement at the same type of pornographic imagery he or she sees in Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre's Ruins of Detroit. In Detroit, at this moment, anything may be, possible; however, we have a responsibility as designers to consider the impression our work makes on the city and its power to act as a catalyst for change and not as a neon sign pointing to its problems.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

016: Loveland

LOVELAND is a community investment program in which partners are invited to purchase square inches of land in Detroit for $1 each. These inch-vestments are compiled together into "microhoods" which are developed into visible park and garden spaces around the city. The LOVELAND team, comprised of Jerry Paffendorf, Mary Lorene Carter, and Larry Sheradon, have developed an unique fundraising framework which engages the community and increases the property's economic value and perhaps more importantly its economic value.

The following video is from the TEDxDetroit conference and outlines all the amazing work Team LOVELAND is doing:

Monday, March 28, 2011

015: The Memphis Manifesto

Re-posted from Detroit Lives!


Lately, there’s a lot of talk circulating about the value of creative industry in Detroit– that is, economic activity associated with more brain power and less physical power. Creative industries include advertising, architecture, design, fashion and film to name just a few. The Detroit Creative Corridor Center has taken on a role locally to cultivate that industry as an attraction/retention tool. Richard Florida, renowned “Creative Class” guru would tell you that “human creativity is the ultimate economic resource” creating opportunities in places like Detroit that minimize the effect of largely having been an industrial city in the past. Trouble is, it’s not just a switch you can flip, there are many factors that go in to creating that environment. Enter Memphis, one city we can take notes from in assisting with that process.

In 2003, leaders and creatives convened in Memphis to establish a roadmap of how their city could attract and retain creative talent so as to create more economic activity around them. What resulted from those meetings was the Memphis Manifesto, something that Detroiter’s can look at and take a few lessons from as we push forward in similar capacities. In many ways, efforts like the Detroit Declaration have taken steps such as these addressing the notion of cultivating creativity, improving quality of place and embracing diversity. The Memphis Manifesto takes it one step further, drilling down just a little bit more as to how we can actually “cultivate creativity” in Detroit and the factors that influence that goal. Have a look at the principles created in Memphis and think about the ways that we can piggyback those actions in our efforts here.
The Creative 100 are dedicated to helping communities realize the full potential of creative ideas by encouraging these principles:

1) Cultivate and reward creativity. Everyone is part of the value chain of creativity. Creativity can happen at anytime, anywhere, and it’s happening in your community right now. Pay attention.

2) Invest in the creative ecosystem. The creative ecosystem can include arts and culture, nightlife, the music scene, restaurants, artists and designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, affordable spaces, lively neighborhoods, spirituality, education, density, public spaces and third places.

3) Embrace diversity. It gives birth to creativity, innovation and positive economic impact. People of different backgrounds and experiences contribute a diversity of ideas, expressions, talents and perspectives that enrich communities. This is how ideas flourish and build vital communities.

4) Nurture the creatives. Support the connectors. Collaborate to compete in a new way and get everyone in the game.

5) Value risk-taking. Convert a “no” climate into a “yes” climate. Invest in opportunity-making, not just problem-solving. Tap into the creative talent, technology and energy for your community. Challenge conventional wisdom.

6) Be authentic. Identify the value you add and focus on those assets where you can be unique. Dare to be different, not simply the look-alike of another community. Resist monoculture and homogeneity. Every community can be the right community.

7) Invest in and build on quality of place. While inherited features such as climate, natural resources and population are important, other critical features such as arts and culture, open and green spaces, vibrant downtowns, and centers of learning can be built and strengthened. This will make communities more competitive than ever because it will create more opportunities than ever for ideas to have an impact.

8 ) Remove barriers to creativity, such as mediocrity, intolerance, disconnectedness, sprawl, poverty, bad schools, exclusivity, and social and environmental degradation.

9) Take responsibility for change in your community. Improvise. Make things happen. Development is a “do it yourself” enterprise.

Ensure that every person, especially children, has the right to creativity. The highest quality lifelong education is critical to developing and retaining creative individuals as a resource for communities.
We accept the responsibility to be the stewards of creativity in our communities. We understand the ideas and principles in this document may be adapted to reflect our community’s unique needs and assets.
The undersigned commit to our communities and each other that we will go back to our communities to infuse these ideas into our social lives and public policies and share the accomplishments with each other so that we all can move forward and succeed together in a more creative existence.