The Creative Archive: Detroit Edition – The City as Muse
I first touched my feet in the Motor City in May 2013. 10 years on and I am still touting the gospel of this city’s magic. Detroit is one of my greatest muses. A place filled with a magnetic energy that compels creative output. In a past version of self, I set my sights on moving to the D to immerse myself in the arts community. The pragmatism of being transit dependent shifted gears for me but a frequent visitor I continue to be.
One of the greatest draws about Detroit is the people. Their warmth, acceptance and community spirit is infectious and inviting. The hospitality is undoubtedly influenced by the many waves of migration into and out of the city with the greatest influence being African American culture. This is heavily evident in the city’s cultural programming, where Black culture is centred and celebrated.
I feel honored to call a group of Detroiters close friends / family. They have shown me their city in a myriad of ways and through them I have experienced Detroit like a satellite home.
When visiting, I often find myself staying in Southwest Detroit. The airbnb price point is right, the proximity to the Ambassador Bridge crossing (and Canadian cell service) is unmatched and the taco trucks dotting Vernor make for delicious nourishment. Should this area not feel right to you I recommend grabbing a sky cabin at El Moore Lodge in Midtown. It is similarly close to amenities, such as the Q Line, Little Ceasers Arena, and just up from the Fox Theatre.
Whichever area you choose, anticipate driving from location to location. Detroit is built on a spoke-hub distribution paradigm, making it a series of major arterials and interstates radiating out from its centre core. Not the easiest to traverse by walking or rolling.
The centre core of Detroit has undergone a mass revitalization thanks to public-private partnership between Dan Gilbert of Quicken Loans fame and the City of Detroit (Read: large tax credits, single investor interests). This revitalization welcomed an influx of commerce to this area – new hotels, restaurants, clothing stores (ahem: Gucci).
If you’re looking for a place to work from outside, the best place to post up in this area is Campus Martius Park. Make a day of it by visiting the Belt and make sure to stop in at Louis Buhl & Co. and Library Street Collective to peep the ever changing exhibitions of international and Detroit based artists. On my last two visits I got to see the work of Canadian-born artist Geoff McFetridge (bucket list) and Aaron Glasson, the latter of whom just launched an artist residency called Jana Koya in the California desert.
Press further out of the core up Woodward Avenue to check out contemporary art at MoCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit). I booked a visit here last September to view the solo exhibition of Nep Sidhu. Entitled Paradox of Harmonics, the exhibition was “driven by Sidhu’s visual inquiries on communal remembrance and how sound impacts both collective and individual responses towards living knowledge production and being in the world with sound”, (MoCAD, 2023).
Continuing north on Woodward, you will reach the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) – home to the Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera. “Dedicated by the people of Detroit to the knowledge and enjoyment of Art,” is carved into the front of the building, a sign of the role this space holds in supporting the artistic community here. Post up in Kresge Court for a working session or client meeting and make sure to visit the industrial design section of the museum. The architecture of the museum is just as inspiring as the art it houses.
Adventure requires recharge and what better way to do so then by breaking bread with good company. Whether that company is the bartender du jour or a compilation of new friends you have made on your visit, book yourself a spot at Selden Standard. Consistently a succulent meal, enjoy it al fresco on their back patio in the warmer months.
I encourage you to head east to the Eastern Market area to scour through the vintage and antique stores and pay a visit to Wasserman Projects. The market halls are filled with local produce and goods, a beautiful collection of produce in this geographic area. Should you find yourself here on a Saturday, come hungry and with no time limits. Post up at Bert’s for stellar bbq, karaoke and a glimpse of Detroit in its element. I discovered Progressive Art Studio Collective (PASC) on one of my last visits. PASC is “dedicated to supporting artists with developmental disabilities and mental health differences to advance independent artistic practices and build individual career paths in the art and design fields.” They were presenting a group exhibition of artists they support and I fell hard for the work of Eric Greene. I highly encourage you to spend some time on their website to discover the many talents they represent.
A visit to Detroit would not be complete without time spent dancing. The city has a rich music history and should be recognized for its role in pushing genres like techno and motown forward. Let it never be forgotten the role that Black culture has played in advancing music and the innovation that can be traced back to key Black, Detroit based musicians. Long live Detroit and everything it gifts us. The city, and all that it inspires, is a muse for all ages, colours and creeds.
Amy Peebles is a curator & producer residing in Hamilton, ON.
Urban planner by education, treasure hunter by choice, and always energized by the act of discovery. Amy is the founder of creative studio Regional Archive and considers herself a child of the world.