Art is often misunderstood. From the deciphering of the abstract in expressionism to a simple line on canvas, it’s the viewer who must consume the medium and look through the eyes of the creator. It exposes us to the artist’s truth as it delves into the controversial, the radical, the extreme, or the antithesis of our own reality. Detroit has always had a storied history full of the dramatic, with extreme highs and lows. Her brand is guarded closely by its people who has embraced its tough image as a source of both pride and hope.
Artists, historically, have always had a role to play in the writing of Detroit’s narrative. They have, by profession, the duty of conveying to us reality and truth, not through the lens of optimism, but through the collective sensibility of the community. Shout out to Charles McGee and Gilda Snowden. During Detroit’s recession, I was able to see the power of Detroit artists, as they not only transformed pockets of depression and ruin into reminders of who we are, but they themselves were transformed. I watched as artists morph into activist as they told our story in bold artistic form with no shame and with no apologies.
“Everything Will Be Alright” stung me as I rode down Woodward in 2008. The neon sign any other time, an eyesore, but that day, it was the message we needed to hear from our art institutions. Our artists and their work made the embattled conscience of the community strong. A tremendous debt of gratitude is owed.
The climate has changed. The world still fascinated by a city presumed dead, now in the midst of penning it’s new narrative. Distant from the trendy ruin porn documentaries, highlighting nothing but the director’s naivety, under the guise of art form and praised by Sundance, we enter a new era. The MOCAD sign changed to “Nothing Will Be Alright.” The White voice on the Black experience is being lauded while the authentic voice on the Black experience in Detroit is relegated to the diversity spend. Our high art institutions and our business leaders are not doing enough to protect the authorship of this city.
Those who have no ties to the community are now monetizing the Detroit brand in the name of good will. As a believer in success within the construct of inclusivity, any artistic programming with a “how do we get more Black people here” problem is deeply flawed. The non-progressive, artless, malicious exclusion of Black and Brown faces in the art game with regard to Black and brown exhibitions, commissions, buyers and spectators are cause for deep concern. Detroit has remarkable artists, with amazing talent, with original voices and yet they sit in the shadows.
Inclusion must be deliberate. Honest introspection must be had. Our art houses must be held accountable.