Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Detroit Lives: A New Haven for Creatives and Entrepreneurs

Palladium Boots recently produced one of the most interesting documentaries that I’ve seen in a while. Eschewing the common narrative of Detroit as the exemplar of urban decay, ghetto violence, and failed metropolis, they chose to show the wonderful revival that Detroit is experiencing despite the contrary narrative in mainstream media.

Detroit Lives is incredibly optimistic, showing the amazing possibilities that Detroit actually has. Despite the thousands of people that have recently abandoned this city, the remaining denizens have used the now vast open spaces to create. Artists, entrepreneurs, and other creators now have the physical, financial, and legal room to do whatever it is they please.

Unlike other major cities, where rent is stiflingly high, creatives can actually pay for their rent while still focusing on their art. Musicians can play in two bands, live comfortably, and make a decent living. While artists can afford to rent or purchase physical space to create massive murals or installation art pieces and exhibit them that other cities lack.

As one hipster put it, “no one wants anything to do with [this city], so you can. I’m 24 and I have a 9 story building at my disposal.” So he and his friends have turned a massive industrial sized space into a playground for artists where they can work, exhibit their creations, and have huge parties. Or take the 7th grade school teacher who started farming on abandoned lots. Rather than asking for permission from the city, he simply asked the neighbors and they were so fired up about restoring their neighborhood, they helped him transform the land. Now he’s supplying local restaurants with tasty organic produce.

Large chain stores have stayed out, leaving a vaccum for entrepreneurs and daring individuals to fill the gaps. With an incredible DIY culture, resilient young folks now have the opportunity to step up and deliver services their way.

Detroit is really an inspiring story of its denizens banding together to rebuild their city in the image that they desire. Like the Wild West in the past, they have the space to create as they wish in a lawless landscape. Despite the horror stories, Detroit is communal activism at its best, not the death of civilization. Where the government and the nation has given up on Detroit, its people have not. These folks are taking their city back and turning it into a cultural Mecca for artists.

Aside from the interesting people and project profiles, you get to tag along as Johnny Knoxville, the documentary’s primary explorer, investigates massive abandoned beaux arts buildings that were once concert halls or factories.

Watching this documentary makes me consider moving there. A city with such a rich cultural history, I want to play a part in the re-invention of a place that has been abandoned by the rest of the country. Participation in great events and having the autonomy to create and be recognized is a rarity today.

This inspiring and thought provoking documentary premiered on August 30th and follows Johnny Knoxville as he explores the city and meets with various people who are helping to restore this city as they take him on a tour of its new possibilities.

Check it out Part 1 below, and click here for the rest.

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