Saturday, October 9, 2010

Vita Brevis, Longa Ars -- Multiply Detroit's Cultural Energy

In April I made my first trip to Detroit. I had the good fortune to meet with Dan Pitera, director of the Detroit Collaborative Design Center at the University of Detroit Mercy. We discussed some of his many projects, including a plan for a portion of the East Side, one of the more depopulated neighborhoods in the city. The plan, developed with residents and Self-Help Addiction Rehabilitation, Inc. (SHAR), is shaped by Dan's belief that "what is seen as void of culture may actually be culturally rich". The plan takes advantage of the existing energy and commitment in that community (instead of the more usual "demolish and redevelop" approach that has been popular for decades in the United States).

Energy begets energy. I visited the East Side and adjacent Midtown. A mile and one half apart, a thirty minute walk, there are two cultural institutions that could enrich each other: The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), one of the largest museums of its type in the country, and the Raven Lounge & Restaurant (see image, bottom left), a small venue for live music.

The most lively place I saw in Detroit during my brief visit was the Rivera Court at DIA (middle left). The room is well-proportioned, with murals by Diego Rivera that are aesthetically and historically rich. What was most important is, given the buses outside from the University of Michigan and elsewhere, that non-Detroiters were enjoying (a sliver) of Detroit.

My hunch is that the group of DIA and the Raven patrons do not overlap. Take advantage of their common interest in the arts and build on it. DIA hosts
music and other live performances. What if, for example, that energy were transferred beyond its grounds and into a community-building event, a musical procession between DIA and the Raven Lounge (top left)? The DIA patrons would hear live music in an different setting and those of the Raven Lounge, see Rivera's powerful "Detroit Industry" murals.

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