Monday, June 23, 2008

The Missing Ingredient

I listened to an interesting discussion on a Detroit public affairs radio show this weekend which featured Rick Rogers of the College of Creative Studies. Mr. Rogers made some good points, promoting the idea of a creative corridor in Detroit's old Cass Corridor. Through million-dollar panel studies, Rogers has come to many of the same conclusions I've reached simply by being a bohemian: the need for density of artists in a metro area; artists serving as a magnet for population and investment; and so on.

Missing from his talk was one key ingredient: low rents! Too much low-rent housing stock may have already been allowed to burn down in the Corridor the last twenty years, accidentally or intentionally, for Roger's vision to happen.

History shows that the creation of a bohemia has been the necessary spark for a city; from the Lost Generation in Paris of the 1920's; the Beats in San Francisco in the 50's, and the rock music hippies in the same city in the 60's; and punks in East Village New York in the 80's. In some respects, Fishtown in Philadelphia now. The artists and writers involved in every instance have been of the low-rent underground variety, living the kind of lives which become the basis of legend, of romantic p.r. for a city.

(Recommended about 1920's Paris: the book Geniuses Together by Humphrey Carpenter; the Keith Carradine movie "The Moderns.")

Detroit's Corridor was closer to the ideal fifteen years ago, when it had more population along with the whore houses and dive bars which give a bohemia its artistic character.

Cutting-edge writers, artists, and musicians have always been found living ON the edge.

If anything, Rogers seems opposed to bohemia. In his talk he disdained the idea of "starving artists living in garrets." Yet I'd wager that's how many of Detroit's artists live now, from Maurice Greenia to Yul Tolbert.

Rick Rogers has a tops-down, bureaucratic approach which is badly flawed. He wants his artists to be yuppies living in sterile, newly-built condos while working draining 9-to-5 jobs for the auto companies. To realize this, the Detroit boozhie class has bulldozed, in the form of old apartment buildings and houses, the very history and character that would make the Cass Corridor a magnet and inspiration for artists-- and has simultaneously driven out the lower class population whose stories and lives necessarily broaden the outlook, and deepen the sympathy, of the artistic temperament. It's madness!

Great art doesn't come from robots. It's spawned by merging oneself with the opposite of an antiseptic environment. This is what Detroit truly offers! The artist needs around him the ferment of life; life in all its variety; a city presenting the full scope of humanity. It won't happen by transplanting suburbia into the inner city.

You want art, Mr. Rogers? Then leave your high-status position. Become a Sherwood Anderson or a Paul Cezanne. Move into a Corridor garrett and bring your friends. Make the creation of art your full-time obsession. BE a model for those you want to follow you.

(And get that book and that movie!)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Exciting happenings in Detroit last week. A week ago Monday I was at Hockeytown itself late after work with a co-worker watching the game. That night downtown was full of expectation that wasn't realized until Wednesday. Friday I saw the parade, among hundreds of thousands of people, white trash mostly, with a smattering of blacks and boozhies. On the edges of the crowd, vendors and scam artists proliferated. I thought of the crowd, "These are the people we have to get reading somehow, some way." Maybe with hockey zeens! The zeen scene has made inroads into the mass public in tiny ways, but needs more ideas.

These are the people who've never been into a Barnes and Noble in their life. Find a way to connect with them and the growth curve would be as explosive as dynamite.