Monday, November 19, 2007

TCA ON THE ROAD: people are diying in detroit.

It doesn't seem a stretch to say that as a Torontonian, Detroit can seem like the post-apocalyptic metropolis that one has to survive their way trough on a road trip to Chicago. That's how I felt about the place, anyway. Everyone you talk to is behind bullet-proof glass, the downtown core features incredible abandoned gothic office towers and there is a driverless, passengerless monorail that loops tiny seemingly pointless circles between empty-looking buildings. Creepy, but also mystifying.

So when I had the opportunity to attend the first Detroit Urban Craft Fair in 2006, I jumped at the opportunity. I just wanted to see who was making things in Detroit and what they were making. As it turned out, organizers Handmade Detroit had hooked into a huge need in the community and the event was and unbelievable success. As I came to understand, the sprawling downtown is only sporadically populated (I mean, some blocks only have one house on them) and after racial riots in the sixties, many residents fled to the suburbs. This (and various subsquent devastations) has left the community both polarized and dispersed. The Urban Craft Fair tapped into this need for connection and managed to draw shoppers who drove hours to be there, to meet crafters and to with people.

As a result of this success, the HD ladies launched a holiday fair (which I participated in this year and just got back from).

Oh, and if Detroit/Michigan crafters have a shared theme, it's regional pride. Lines like Phantom Limb, Detroit GT and City Bird all have substantial regional designs on/in their goods. And really, it looked like almost every table had some form of local pride product somewhere on it. It felt like such a far cry from the ironic aesthetics of Toronto's assertions of regional pride. But then again, Toronto isn't suffering the population dwindling of Detroit, or the violence, or the disjointedness.

On this trip, we also undertook some getting-to-know Detroit and set out to explore the city based on a to-do list that our pal Stephanie gave us. On top of all the abandoned buildings we went to (including an opulent theatre gutted and turned into a parkade), the biggest highlight of our urban tourism was The Heildelberg Project. This is a huge installation art project that spans about three blocks square in one of Detroit inner-city neighbourhoods (one of the erstwhile residential areas that is now equal parts housing, burnt housing and vacant lots - see here for an aerial illustration of this). The idea behind this sprawling twenty-year project is to engage people locally and abroad to simply come into the city through art. Also, artist Tyree Guyton wanted to bring large-scale art to the people in the inner city. The project also mostly supports the block on which it is centred.

On a much more suburban note, we also visited a couple of supply shops just outside of the city proper. Munro Crafts in Berkely is a jewellery maker's dream come true. Although beading supplies seem to be the bread and butter of this business, the many nooks and crannies of this craft supply shop house all kinds of surprises from vintage doll-making components, to packaging and displays (mostly geared towards jewellers, but good basic display ideas for creative crafters of any ilk). Have You Any Wool (also in Berkley) is a yarn and supply shop that resides somewhere between hipster boutique and classic suburban supply shop. They have a great selection (and currently that Canadian dollar goes a long way on already low American prices) and an atmosphere that is comfy while still having a knowledgeable staff on hand to help with just about anything (from yarn selection to help with botched fibre projects).

Speaking of knitting, whenever I'd mention the creepy empty monorail to Detroit crafters, they were quick to point out that there is a weekly knitting/crochet meeting on it. That really seems to sum up the DIY movement there; It exists to bring life back to a once-beautiful city that the forces of big industry have abandoned.

For more images from the sweetie pie press/Misanthrope Specialty Co. trip to Detroit, looky here.

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Blogger angelune@TCA said...

wow, awesome article SPP. i've heard great things about the city of detroit from people who actually lived there. i guess it's like Toronto to small-town-canucks, it seems like the killing fields unless you live here, then you know what an amazing, thriving city it is, with wonderful people. i admit, i fully heart toronto.

5:30 p.m.  
Anonymous Johanna said...

Wow, excellent post about Detroit!! I grew up about 20 minutes south of the Motor City, and I've always felt it is so misunderstood by those whose only contact with it has been to cross the Ambassador Bridge then get the hell out ASAP. There is a vibrant community of creative types there, and don't forget fantastic destinations like Pewabic Pottery and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The DIA has the most fabulous Diego Rivera murals about industrial Detroit; they are a Must See. Sadly, much of the once-thriving downtown core is now in ruins, but what beautiful ruins...

1:44 p.m.  
Blogger sweetie pie press said...

oh, the d.i.a. also just reopened after being closed for some renovations. the diego rivera murals were on our list but they seem to be reopening right after we passed through.

4:58 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Detroit is alive and thriving!!! There is lots of theatre, culture, music and art found in some of the most architeturally beautiful, turn of the century buildings in North America!! Too bad you focussed on the 'ruins'. There is a wealth of history and artistic expression being offered in many venues all year round. Each Spring there is a fantastic Art and Craft show on the campus of Wayne State University that is located in the heart of downtown Detroit that offers interesting items along with musical performances by many types of musicians and also good food. Wayne State is a university with a strong cultural and art base located a block away from the Detroit Institute of Arts. It boasts four theatres, a fantastic Art and Design dept and is a wealth of bustling creativity.

2:03 p.m.  

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