“Detroit is an open city”
Presumed to be dead ones live longer. Who would have bet one penny on the revitalization of Detroit in the 90s? The city near Lake Michigan has been in the process of shrinking since the riots in 1967 and the decline of it´s automobile industry.
Now it is by no means in such a way that the Detroit in 2017 is playing on eye level with Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Still one should visit certain neighborhoods with care, and due to a vast landscape of abandoned homes it often feels like a ghosttown. The traffic amount, always a good indicator for an American Metropolis, is existent only during Rush Hour when the thousands of commuters return to the suburbs of Detroit; with the pleasant side effect that parking problems hardly exist.
However, for some years a new trend reveals itself:
Inhabitants of the suburbs move again back in the city. At the same time those come to Detroit, who cannot afford a life in other American metropolises anymore, because here exists enough space for experimentation.
Their image of the city and what it should hold for them (for example through sustainable micro enterprises, large-scale investments or spontaneous cultural initiatives) move space and life in Detroit.
Next to stimulating factors such as the Movement Festival, which since 2002 under different names attracts the electronic music scene to the city everything has found its origin once (besides Chicago). Above all it is to be owed to the untiring faith of the local protagonists in Detroit that add to in-migration which takes place for some years.
Important impulusegivers are once more artistic projects. Such is the research residency FILTER Detroit brought to life from Kerstin Niemann.
Kerstin, since when does the FILTER house exist?
Kerstin Niemann: I bought the FILTER house in fall 2009 and then rebuild and renovated it. The research residency FILTER Detroit began in the summer of 2010.FILTER Detroit.
How do you finance your house and fellows?
I rent two rooms of the house to people living in Detroit who are close to the cultural- and do-it-yourself-scene. Thus, the running costs are taken care of and the invited guests have contact persons and roomates during their stay. The fellows (research residents) usually pay a contribution to the running costs. Travel costs, car rental during the stay in Detroit, material and productions costs or living costs are all enrolled by the fellows themselves. I support in writing applications for public funding. If we are planning a joint presentation project following our research time in Detroit such as exhibtions or publications, I will submit the grant applications myself. There is no ongoing support for the research residency.
Which artists already were research residents?
2010, around 30 artists and student groups from Europe and abroad have been guests. For example PHD students from the Urban Heritage Program at Bauhaus University in Weimar, Nina Könnemann, Fieke van Berkom, Jennifer Bennett, Jule Osten, Luk Sponselee, Lise Halle Baggersen, Frank Havermans, students from Leuphana University in Lüneburg, Scholars from Hans Böckler Foundation, Bernd Trasberger, Guy Gormley or Eva Seiler and Johanna Tinzl from Vienna, and also Christian Kasners.
Some returned several times or settled in Detroit, such as the Hinterlands, Jule Osten or Cordula Ditz from Hamburg.
Kerstin, how much time a year do you spend in the city?
I`m usually in Detroit for about two to three months a year. These are three to four stays of two to four weeks.
How did you come up with the idea of establishing an artist residency in Detroit?
My curatorial work on the interdisciplinary exhibition project „Heartland“ (Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven and Smart Museum of Art University of Chicago 2008/2009) brought me and the co-curators to Detroit in early 2008. The direct contact with local artists revealed that the metropolis, which until now has only been known to us as a shrinking and old industrial city, offered a lot of artistic/creative freedom for its cultural producers. Detroit is an open city where diverse cultures come together and live. The art and music scene of this city is extremely lively. Visionaries, architects, musicians and artists alike experiment with the deserted spaces and cultural heritage of this place. They set up their sutdios and micro-production facilities in empty warehouse complexes and homes. This energy is contagious.
In 2009, after the financial crisis in the US, real estate prices were at an all-time low. As a trained real-estate and housing administrator, I did not think twice and bought a house in Banglatown, a district of Detroit that has been characterized by migration flow since the 1920s. It was important to me to create a place in which artists from Europe and the US network with Detroit cultural producers.
What is the goal of FILTER Detroit?
The research residency and its associated activities provide a long-term contemporary art platform, formed through collaboration with residents, guest artists, neighbors and the city.
FILTER Detroit is a destination for artists, makers, musicians, architects and thinkers in and out of Detroit. The invited guests will live in a residential home in a neighborhood and have the opportunity to research, work and interact in the city, for example with Detroit artists and institutions.
How did the local protagonists react to your endeavour?
It is important to me that invited research residents know the context in which they are moving. That´s why I demand in advance that fellows know the history of the city and understand how different Detroit can be. With the artists I discuss their interests in Detroit and try to avoid that, for example, further photographs of ruins or abandoned houses contribute to a negative image of this city (ruin porn).
The local cultural producers are critical of the interest in their city. They want to avoid that they have to censure the usual stereotypes about Detroit a 1000 times and are not interested in being constantly used as walk-ons for documentaries and „Helicopter News“.
So there are different reactions to FILTER Detroit. Sometimes helpful and enthusiastic – because the collaboration with the residents brought further projects outside of Detroit for the local artists. Sometimes critical. But the hospitality and openness to work together outweighs.
My immediate neighbors come from Bangladesh, they are helpful, but not neccessarily interested in my guests or work in Detroit, it just does not live up to their reality. Since I have a daughter we come more and more in touch as neighbors who have children of the same age.
With whom do you have more intensive contacts?
Network contacts exist with other cultural institutions from the neighborhood as well as the city center. For example, to Popps Packing, The Hinterlands, Zimbabwean Cultural Center of Detroit, Burnside Farm, Powerhouse Productions, Butter Projects, College for Creative Studies or Wayne State University.
You´ve been working in Detroit for a few years, how much has the city changed?
The city and the life in it are constantly changing. Young initiatives revive the cultural infrastructures, especially young people (students) and families with work move into the city.The downtown area is filled with investors and young entrepreneurs, and thus house prices are rising and the population structure is changing. Others, who alread scratch on their subsistence level because of the economic situation, can no longer afford to live in the city center – community gardening or not.
At each Detroit stay, I discover new art projects, businesses, investor models or forms of collaboration. Cultural production and the creative industries have been intensively promoted by the private-sector initiatives and by foundations for the past six years. I realize that much of the cultural events and projects are only used by the populations that can afford it or do have some educational access.
Are there any comparable projects of newcomers? How is the general exchange between the Ex-Pads?
The exchange is good. The cultural scene is still manageable and you get to know each other realtively quickly. INCA Detroit was an artist initiative with residency program in Detroit and EXPODIUM from the Netherlands had a dependance in Detroit. Every now and then there are foreign initiatives, usually they disappear after three or four years, but this also has to do with the financing of this kind of projects.
Finally, I would be interested in the radiance of the project. Is it perceived primarily locally, in Germany, in Europe or America?
It is primarily perceived by the people and institutions concerned with contemporary cultural production and urban development in Detroit. In a local context, FILTER Detroit is well known because I keep looking for collaborations with local artists, makers and initiatives. In addition, I invite research residents and artists from Detroit to exhibitions and presentations and contributions to publications, such as the Kunstverein Wolfsburg, the Van Abbemuseum, the Cultural Foundation Agathenburg, the equivalent to Hamburgs Gängeviertel or the Sullivan Galleries in Chicago.
Since FILTER Detroit is run as one-woman operation, there is no marketing and marketing concept. The website lags behind three years and my publicity and social media activity is limited to the bare minimum.
What is the future for?
I am currently working with the permanent resident of FILTER on the redesign of the FILTER Detroit website. A performance project is being discussed with the Dutch artist couple Inge Nabuurs and Erwin van Doorn, which also involves working with Detroit artists and musicians. Of particular importance to me is the work on my PhD thesis which examines FILTER Detroit, other artistic (migration) projects and art production in Banglatown and real estate values.
FILTER Detroit, 12645 Moran Street, Detroit