A Brooklyn art group named Artefacting has installed 200 Tibetan peace flags atop an abandoned home on Chene Street in Detroit to call attention to the city’s “social and economic problems,” according to the Detroit News. Residents of the neighborhood are not happy.The only thing Artefacting’s installation seems to be calling attention to in the eyes of many Detroiters is the fact that the building the group has co-opted is abandoned.
“It adds blight to our community,” said Dee Vaughn, president of the 48207 Grass Roots Detroiters community group. “Not only does it add blight, but it draws attention to it.”
“This is not what we want in our neighborhood,” said [resident Themla] Stallings. “It’s not art to us.”
“It’s degrading,” said [another resident Hazel] Johnson as she stared at the colorful swaths of cloth.
Detroit has long been a media fetish as a symbol of economic turmoil and urban decay. It is easy to turn the city into a case study. There are realities in Detroit that look more like metaphors. There are skyscrapers for sale downtown. How many times have you opened the New York Times to find an article discussing the many problems Detroit faces containing a large photo spread of abandoned buildings, as if the city is a mere cluster of derelict structures? Yes, the city has struggled for decades and its “social and economic problems” are well-documented and real. Then again, to lump all of those problems into a tidy catchphrase, as if they are all the same, is reductive and dehumanizing. Lately, the conversation has become more about the city’s potential with even the New York Post talking about “the new Detroit cool.” Those discussions are no less reactionary and degrading: “Once a bastion of traditional Irish-American culture, Corktown has become a place to see Detroit at its coolest,” went a line from the Post‘s article about Detroit’s oldest neighborhood. That’s not the whole story. There are numerous sides to every city and Detroit is no exception. It is a rough town, but people still live there. Talking to the Detroit News about how problematic Artefacting’s project is, Mohamed Okdie, another Detroiter from Canfield, put it best:
“I’m getting tired of outsiders who see this city … as a project,” said Okdie. “I resent that.”