Taubman College

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Toronto Star, Detroit Free Press on the creative spirit driving Detroit, involvement of architecture 2009-2010 fellows work

Last year five Taubman College fellows bought a vacant Detroit bungalow on Moran Street for 500 dollars at the Wayne County auction. In purchasing the house, the fellows wanted to use the space as an opportunity for architectural creativity and research. Open houses were held to show their work to the university, alumni, friends and neighbors.

Recently, the Toronto Star and the Detroit Free Press highlighted the creative revival inhabiting Detroit, including the innovative architectural design work of Taubman College's 2009-2010 fellows.

The former fellows reconfigured and reimagined rooms, the structure itself, and the garage. Their artistic and architectural projects are mentioned in both articles, along with the work of six other artists, whose work will be featured in the February issue of Juxtapox, a San Francisco art magazine that raised $180,000 for the artists to transform their house on Moran Street into an edgy masterpiece.

With the money raised, Juxtapoz plans to bring a recurring cycle of artists to Detroit "to build and develop an artistic community and residency program to promote creativity and participation in the re-imagining of America's urban neighborhoods."

The 2009-2010 Fellows included:

  • Ellie Abrons, A. Alfred Taubman Fellow
  • Meredith Miller, A. Alfred Taubman Fellow
  • Thomas Moran, William Muschenheim Fellow
  • Catie Newell, Willard A. Oberdick Fellow
  • Rosalyne Shieh, A. Alfred Taubman Fellow

To learn more about the house, taubmancollege.umich.edu/5fellows

Full articles below:

Link to article: thestar.com/entertainment/article/914444--art-s-new-dawn-in-detroit

The Toronto Star
Art's new dawn in Detroit
Jan. 2, 2011 By Murray Whyte Visual arts

DETROIT—Inside Fisher Auto Body, a hulking ruin of crumbled concrete and lead-paned window grids in Detroit's old industrial core, collapsed cement-floor plates create vast fields of rubble that evoke nothing so much as wartime destruction. Rows of towering columns disappear into darkness, light streaming through shattered glass in eerily crisp, narrow shafts.

Once a hub of this city's bustling automotive economy, Fisher is broken, abandoned, left for dead. Scott Hocking, though, takes another view. "That building is my second home," he says. "Certain places, they're a solace to me, like a walk in the woods, or the same kind of quietude you'd experience in a temple.

"It's like a threshold, I guess: In Detroit, we're in this transformation, from what we were into an unknown future, and there's something beautiful in that transformation."

Detroit, of course, has been slowly transforming for decades. It has rarely, though, been described as beautiful. The city's litany of ills have rendered it as much a metaphor than actual place: A ruined industrial empire, as monumental, and as dead, as Rome's ever could have been.

In the long unravelling of the city's tragedy, though, there are, finally, signs of life. Hocking, 35, a lifelong Detroiter, is living proof: An artist, he's part of a close-knit, growing community that has started to see opportunity in the ruins.

The potential is both creative and practical. For Hocking, buildings like Fisher, or the vast old Packard plant, become vast artistic tableaux: Inside the tumbledown sites, he builds installations with whatever leftovers he finds there (in Fisher, he built a pyramid ragged tires bathed in an spectral green glow of the sun strained through its windows; in his most recent work, Garden of the Gods, Hocking placed shattered TV sets atop the still-standing concrete columns of the Packard Plant's top level; the floor they once supported crumbled to their feet, the columns now reach into the cold, grey sky).

But in the eyes of a growing art community, Detroit is more than just ruins. It's an opportunity for renewal, from the grassroots on up. Hollowed out by decades of suburban flight, last year's foreclosure crisis dragged Detroit's already-sagging property market into deep crisis proportions. Thousands of property owners defaulted on mortgages, transferring ownership first to banks, and often the county, which would then auction them off. Starting price: $500.

Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert, an artist wedded to an architect, bought six houses that way, at the minimum price ("If no one bids against you, that's what you pay," Reichert says). All together, through their communuity-based non-profit organization Powerhouse Productions, they own a dozen or so houses in their Detroit neighbourhood.

On a bone-chilling December day, Reichert offered a tour, power drill in hand, of her neighbourhood empire, to remove, and then refit, the plywood barriers she and Cope affixed to each house's entrance. "When we bought them, we didn't know exactly what we were going to do with them," she says. "But we knew what would happen if we didn't buy them." Crackheads, squatters, looters – all had done their time inside. Reichert and Cope took ownership in the most extraordinary ways.

At the back of one house charred by a deliberate fire – likely for insurance reasons, Reichert speculates – artist Ben Wolf had built an ungainly stack of ramshackle dormers he salvaged from various abandoned houses in the city.

Across the street, Monica Canilao's "Treasure Nest" turns the battered façade of a solid two-storey house into a chaotic composition of salvaged debris. Inside and upstairs, a huge chandelier dangles floor to ceiling. Cobbled from old chairs, light fixtures, a table, bedposts, beads, wire and string, it seemed to suggest what's come to be a given in the Detroit Hocking envisions: In the city's evolving future, creative reuse of everything – including the buildings themselves – plays a crucial part.

Four of the houses went through their intensive re-use session this summer, after Juxtapoz magazine raised $180,000 to help Cope and Reichert establish their non-profit. Powerhouse and Juxtapoz selected six artists, Wolf and Canilao among them, to reimagine the houses as public art projects.

It effectively put Cope and Reichert's neighbourhood efforts on the international art world map. But a simple transformation, from ruin to public art, is far from Cope and Reichert's endgame. "It was sort of quick in-and-out," Reichert shrugs. "Our goal has always been slow, long-term commitment."

In their namesake property, The Powerhouse, an unassuming, ramshackle two-storey with multicoloured siding,Reichert offers a walk-through. "Eventually, this will be a community gathering space," says Reichert, passing through a front sitting room stripped of plaster down to wooden wall studs, with sawhorses and power tools nearby. "Back here, this room will be a gallery, or work space." On the upper floor, an artist-in-residence studio is under construction. Solar panels and a wind turbine will provide power; a rooftop cistern will collect rainwater.

The Powerhouse project is a beacon of creative reuse – a de facto community centre for a community that lost virtually all of those resources in the long, slow, spiral downward, years before.

Hamtramck, like so much of metro Detroit, was a working class area of modest homes, wedged between factories for easy access to work. When the jobs flooded out, original residents fled and basic community services evaporated. But new residents, with the same social needs, came in. Here, a strong, and growing, Bengali community makes up the majority of the population.

"We've had requests from some neighbours to host kids' classes here, or English as a second language classes," Reichert says. "There's all this sort of cultural or civic work that they've had to do in their homes, because there's been no other option. That's the kind of thing we want to pull out a little, and give the community the chance to interact with each other."

The artist-repurposed houses, meanwhile, are a work in progress. "A bunch of them, it wouldn't take much to make them habitable again," Reichert says. She and Cope, along with friends and neighbours, are in the process of reworking them to sell, at cost, to artists or locals who want to join the cause.

"We don't want to own all these houses," Reichert says. "Our whole thing is that we think artists can bring new ideas, and creative ideas, about what to do with neighbourhoods and housing stock. Neighbourhoods like this need more than just residents. We need to start thinking about how to pull people out of their houses and function like a community."

All of this may not sound much like art, and maybe that's the point. Across the river in Windsor, Justin Langlois heads a small artist collective called Broken City Lab. For the past two years, they've been scratching at the same post-industrial scorched earth on their side of the border: Installing day-glo signs in abandoned lots that exhort things like "MAKE THIS BETTER." Earlier this year, Broken City Lab broadcast its kinship with Detroit's post-industrial decay for all to see, projecting a slogan several stories high on a building visible across the river: "WE'RE IN THIS TOGETHER." ("I know what we do seems simple and positive," he says, "but part of what we've realized is that just being positive here is a radical position.")

Nominally, he says, what they do falls under the rubric "social practice," a term that has been gaining momentum in academic circles in recent years. Portland State University offers a Master's of Fine Arts in the discipline ("Social practice might appear to be more like sociology, anthropology, social work, journalism, or environmentalism than art," its site reads, almost apologetically).

"At some point, it starts to blur: Is it a community incubator, social services, or is it an art project?" Langlois says.

"For me, framing it as art takes you away from the limits of being a citizen taking on an issue, it takes you away from being community services organization. It frees you from those limitations, to think creatively, take ownership and actually do something."

Still, some chafe at the label. On the other side of the border, Jon Brumit and his wife, Sarah Wagner, bought a house one block from Cope and Reichert's for $100 last year. Outside, the façade is speckled with bright corrugated plastic shakes – white, black and orange. Inside, a major reconstruction is taking place: Walls stripped to the studs, ceiling and attic torn out to reveal the skeleton of the roof.

Living here "is almost social practice by default," Brumit says, a verbal shrug. "But it all seems so controlled, or prescribed. For me, it's just really interesting to be here in this mix of people and spaces."Recently, he and Wagner bought the vacant lot across the street, which he hopes to remake into "part greenhouse, part weird playground," open to the public, and neighbourhood kids.

"When we first started, I met a couple dozen of my neighbours in a week," he says. "I have no idea what this will do to my work, but I can't be concerned about that. It's not about an artists' community – it's about finding yourself in a community of people. We feel like the most constructive thing we can do is show up and pay attention."

In Detroit's nascent , unexpected art boom, a sensitivity is emerging. "There's that idea – 'I can come here and do my art on your city,' " says Kate Daughdrill, 26 who, with Jessica Hernandez, 23, founded Soup, a monthly community dinner, earlier this year. "We need a space to hash those things out and work together."

Tonight, in the space above Hernandez's family's bakery in Detroit's Mexicantown, a lively Hispanic neighbourhood in the inner city, Soup is holding its first meal of the new year. It has a simple set of rules. Dinner is $5. Inside, you'll listen to four or five pitches for grassroots creative projects, and at the end of the meal, you vote. The winner takes home the kitty – sometimes as much as $1,000 – to realize their goal.

They call it microfunding, and it's been so successful that it's starting to spread, popping up in several of Detroit's communities. "And that's the point!" says Daughdrill. "It's not about the franchise, it's the relationship that people can have with their neighbours. Part of the reason Soup thrives is that we're all yearning for points of connection."

Hernandez grew up in Detroit, and left, many times; Daughdrill came from New Orleans for art school, and stayed.

"Sometimes, it's easier to run away from things here," Hernandez says. "But now, to be in a community where there are so many people so focused on what everyone's doing, there's an accountability that a lot of places don't have. It took me meeting someone from somewhere else to open my eyes to the things that were going on here."

It's been a long time since Detroit saw any newcomers, and with them has come a view to Detroit's future potential, not its blighted past. "Finally, I think what's happened is it's finally been whittled down, from the gawkers perpetuating that sadness to people interested in doing," says Catie Newell, an artist and architecture professor at the University of Michigan who grew up in metro Detroit.

"I used to drive around to look at the ruins, and just be amazed," she says. "Now, I see it as an opportunity – 'how can I reuse those materials, or reinterpret that space?'"

Newell built one installation in an abandoned garage behind one of Cope and Reichert's houses, shafts of clear tubing through the walls and ceiling that penetrate the darkness with cylinders of light. Her most recent work, a thick cluster of charred wood installed in the house from which it was salvaged, took place at the Imagination Station, the optimistic name for two abandoned houses sitting next to Detroit's weightiest symbol of decay, the grand old train station, long since abandoned to the elements.

"Quite a view, huh?" says Jeff DeBruyn, standing in the burnt-out second floor of one of the houses, facing the station. DeBruyn, with Jerry Paffendorf, bought the houses out of auction for less than $1,000. Their plan is to keep one (too badly damaged by fire to be restored) for rotating public installations like Newell's. The other, DeBruyn says, will be restored to house a community media centre.

DeBruyn is no artist. He works in a local soup kitchen, and helps manage a shelter for women and children, where he lives. He's also the head of the Corktown Resident's Council in the inner-city neighbourhood where the Imagination Station sits. It is, by most accounts, both among the worst-hit patches of Detroit, and the one with the most potential: In front of the station, Roosevelt Park has been slated for a grand overhaul. Around the corner on Michigan Avenue, a modest commercial renaissance is taking seed, lead by the popular barbecue restaurant Slow's.

DeBruyn has heard all the talk of cultural renewal – "the hip artists are going to come and save the city!" he scoffs. He's been here too long to buy it. "The intention here is not to put art in the community – it's to engage them," he says. "Instantly, putting this here changes the energy from darkness to light."

Back near Fisher Auto Body, Hocking surveys his studio, filled with industrial debris of 15 years' worth of salvaging. "There's this new energy here," he says. "It's like that magic hour, dusk or dawn. I grew up here. I know the difference And I don't want to leave."

Over at Garden of the Gods, only one of the TV sets remains, toppled by weather, earnest scrap collectors, or both. "I like the temporary quality," he says. "Besides," he says, smiling, "nothing should last forever anyway."

This month's Soup is tonight above the Mexicantown Bakery, 4300 W. Vernor Highway, Detroit; Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert will be conducting tours of their neighbourhood the first Saturday of every month beginning Feb. 5 at 11 am, starting at 12644 Moran Street.

Link to article: freep.com/article/20101227/NEWS01/12270372/1001/NEWS/Artists-help-transform-Detroit-street

Detroit Free Press
A couple, six artists and $180,000 help transform Moran Street in Detroit
Dec. 27, 2010 By PATRICIA MONTEMURRI

In a distressed corner of northeast Detroit, artists from across the country and around the world are using the city's decrepit, derelict houses as their palettes.

Backed by $180,000 raised by San Francisco art magazine Juxtapoz, six out-of-state artists spent the fall transforming four houses on Moran Street, south of Davison, into edgy masterpieces.

Their work will be featured in the magazine's February issue.

Swoon, a New York artist known for her cut-out portraits of neighborhood people, drew inspiration from the surrounding community of Bangladeshi immigrants in the images she created outside and inside a fire-ravaged Moran Street ruin. San Francisco artist Richard Colman and Los Angeles graffiti artist Retna transformed a squat house across the street into a mesmerizing black and white graphic.

Making art from Detroit's decay was the subject of an exhibition last month in Hamburg, Germany. And a government-backed foundation in the Netherlands is paying for a Dutch artist to work with Detroit artist Mitch Cope to rejuvenate yet another Moran Street house into a showcase for recycled items and make it energy-efficient and off the grid.

Said artist and carpenter Erik Jutten, 34, of Rotterdam, Netherlands, as he nailed wood scavenged from the Packard plant ruins onto a reinforced ceiling of the Moran Street house: "Detroit is hot for art pioneers."

Art House Treasures Of Moran Street

Artist Monica Canilao calls it the Treasure House.

The Oakland, Calif., artist spent a month on Moran Street in northeast Detroit this fall, transforming a sturdy two-story abode, acquired for $900, into a visual wonderland of things recycled, recovered and re-gifted.

Inside, she has crafted an uber-chandelier from discarded vases and lamp parts -- a salvaged, stunning, room-filling, light-giving artifact.

The house is the most eye-catching recreation of a residence on the Detroit block, near the intersection of Davison and Caniff and just north of Hamtramck, where a cadre of local, national and international artists are in the midst of a love affair with the Motor City.

"We were simply trying to breathe new life into an otherwise unused and decaying structure," says San Francisco artist Richard Colman, who teamed with the graffiti ace Retna to create a tableau of black, white and silver patterns at the bungalow next door. "Detroit was great from a creative and personal perspective."

Much-maligned, rust-belt relic Detroit has become a muse to the creative class.

Give credit for that, in part, to the duo of artist Mitch Cope and his architect/artist wife Gina Reichert.

"Our mission is when houses come up for sale, to find people who want to do something with them to keep the neighborhood lively and spicy," said Cope, 37.

The couple, who have an 11-month-old daughter, live in a onetime Polish market storefront house on Klinger Street, one block from Moran. Their endeavors in the neighborhood are operated under Power House Productions, a nonprofit 501c3 organization, and include the Power House Project, powerhouseproject.com.

The Power House is at the corner of Moran and Lawley. Cope and visiting artists are renovating the house to be totally energy self-sufficient and off the grid. Cope provides electricity to the home through a generator powered by a rooftop wind turbine. A Dutch artist, Erik Jutten, whose stay is funded by a grant from a Netherlands foundation, recut the roof to install windows and solar panels to heat the home. Cope is scrounging up recycled refrigerator doors to fashion a water collection system.

"I love it here. It's some kind of new freedom," said Jutten. "Mitch and Gina are already making a difference for a long time in the neighborhood. I see more the opportunities of this urban space, this new way of living."

The couple have established ties with artists near and far. When Cope and Reichert had some of their work displayed in Germany, they met Kerstin Niemann. Niemann bought a house on Moran, which she visits often and where she hosts artists and moviemakers intent on transforming Detroit. Last month, she organized an exhibition in Hamburg, Germany, about Detroit and Moran Street.

A year ago, editors at the San Francisco art magazine Juxtapoz staged an online art auction to mark the magazine's 15th anniversary and benefit a worthy cause. They raised $180,000 and picked Cope and Reichert's work on Moran to be the beneficiary, bankrolling the autumn visit by six artists, who also included Saelee Oh, Ben Wolf and Swoon.

The magazine says it will bring a recurring cycle of artists to Detroit "to build and develop an artistic community and residency program to promote creativity and participation in the re-imagining of America's urban neighborhoods."

That's also a goal of some faculty fellows at the University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Five U-M fellows bought a bungalow on Moran for $500 at the Wayne County auction last year, and staged a gallery show amid rooms reconfigured and reimagined and a garage studded with luminous glass rods.

California artist Oh, who was among those Juxtapoz commissioned, used the U-M house to create a three-dimensional installation involving tearful dogs and birdhouses. On her blog, saeleeoh.blogspot.com, she wrote of her first visit to Detroit: "I loved it and it exceeded my expectations."

"It's a dying, collapsing city that's like a ghost town in many ways, but for an artist or any creative person, there's also this wonderful sense of expansive opportunity that I haven't felt in any other U.S. city," wrote Oh. "In that sense, it is very much alive and I'm glad to have given Detroit what we made there in two weeks and left behind."

A previous version of this story misstated the name of artist Ben Wolf. This version is correct.

Jan 11, 2011


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