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Culture Lab Detroit - Can Art and Collaboration Help Rebuild a City?

by Brit Chic in Detroit

Last week, April 24th-26th, saw the second annual event to promote Culture Lab Detroit.   The idea was conceived by Jan Schulak who has partnered with Detroit Creative Corridor Center and the College for Creative Studies to facilitate a place where renowned artists and entrepreneurs can come together to make connections, have conversations and collaborate with each other in order to make the world aware of Detroit’s potential to be a leading hub for creativity.

During the series of events last week, a panel discussion entitled “Art Interventions” was held at the Alfred Tubman Center for Design Education at the College for Creative Studies on Thursday evening.

The moderator David Stark a New York premier event designer lead the other panelists in discussion; Theaster Gates, Chicago- based artist and innovator in the field of social practice, and space development, David Adjaye, London and New York based international architect, known for his sculptural ability and artists sensibility and Humberto and Fernando Campana, Brazil-based designers, who work primarily in furniture, interior design, architecture, and landscaping. 

I had the opportunity to ask David Stark some questions beforehand.

How did you get involved with Culture Lab Detroit?  

“I first met Jane Schulak, Culture Lab’s founder when collaborating with her on a private event.  Through that experience, I fell in love with Detroit, its percolating creative community, the incredible history of the city, and the community that is redefining what Detroit stands for NOW and in the future.  When Jane asked me to be part of the panel discussion last year, of course, I was thrilled. I am honored to be asked back to now moderate this year’s talk with David Adjaye, the Campana brothers, and Theaster Gates, all artists and creative thinkers that I greatly admire”.

Do you think it is possible to restore Detroit and revive it as a city of creative innovators?  

“Of course!  It’s happening as we speak!  Creativity comes out of necessity.  Thus, while there are truly grave challenges to be overcome, and I don’t want to minimize them, there are so many awesome people, artists, and companies that are seizing the day of opportunity.  Look at a company like Shinola.  They are a prime example of a group that are moving the needle from Detroit, making Detroit sexy”.

So with David and his strong support for Detroit at the helm, his questions to the panel began.  The group was very focused on how design and architecture can benefit a recovering city like Detroit.  Their main points focused on listening to the community and looking at their relationship to the environment, recycling and restoring and the Campana brothers’ example of their work in San Paulo Brazil, where social responsibility can resurrect old traditions and give stimulation and self esteem back to the people.

This all makes good sense and why shouldn't art have a positive effect on rebuilding a city?   As we have seen recently with the fires at the Heidelberg project, not everyone shares this view.

This was highlighted when a fantastic question came from the floor from a teacher in Detroit.  She explained that her students walk home every day among the burnt out abandoned buildings and that it is their psyche that needs restoring before any art and architecture could improve their lives.

The designers all agreed that this was a really big problem and did not know if they could take this on the way it stands right now.  “Design can give us the tools to deal with stuff but cannot deal with spiritual problems”.   They felt that what is needed is to figure out what other disciplines (perhaps positive psychology?) could sit alongside architecture and design and suggested that it could be taught in schools and collages.

So it seems that there is a lot more to it than just listening and rebuilding the city with creative design. However, it was clear that the high level of talent on the panel and their presence in Detroit engaging in these types of conversations was important for the outside world to see.

Can Art and Collaboration help rebuild a city?  I am not sure the answer is that simple.  Maybe a first step will be to restore balance and alleviate the inequalities that are still so prevalent in Detroit

This will be a huge undertaking and needs everyone to be on board, whether they are an artist or not.  If everyone comes together for the common goal of rebuilding the city and each individual does his or her part, I think it could be possible.  By starting to work and heal together the community can start to restore its faith in the possibility of rebirth.