Death and Life of American Cities: Is Detroit the Next Artists’ Haven?


We just read that 18 visual artists received a boost in the form of $450,000 in grant money from the Michigan-based Kresge Foundation. As the Detroit Free Press reported, “Advocates say the fellowships could have a galvanizing effect on the local arts scene — boosting public perception of an overlooked community, inspiring artists to create more ambitious work and offering them an incentive to remain here rather than leave for New York or elsewhere.” Plus, next year the grants will recognize non-visual artists.

Does this spell a mass exodus from Brooklyn, the current unofficial borough-of-choice for struggling artists, toward a land free of gentrification and trust-funders? Let’s take a look at the evidence.

– Last summer New York magazine suggested that Buffalo might eclipse Williamsburg as an epicenter for all things hipster. We don’t have population statistics on hand or anything, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. Meaning that maybe it’s time to give Detroit a shot. As of December, the average price of a home there was $18,513.

– In a recent video conversation with the New York Times, author and Detroit native Jeffrey Eugenides (and a frequent pick for our Big Brother Book Club!) mentioned that returning to his hometown fills him with Ruinenwert, which is German for “the pleasure of ruins.” The pleasure of ruins is hard to come by in rapidly developing Brooklyn, which is why some artists might find inspiration in Detroit’s “beautiful, horrible decline.”

– Back in May Ron English told us that he was involved with a campaign to buy houses in Detroit. “They’re like super cheap — like $4,000 a piece. The idea is to create an artists neighborhood and artists housing. He’s having all of us pop surrealists donate art to help raise money for this project. A lot of people have said, what kind of person is going to want to live in a neighborhood where the drug dealers are armed and it’s very dangerous? People don’t understand that artists… All they want is space and time.”

What do you think: Is Detroit the next Bushwick?