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Turning Life Into Art in Detroit

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The city of Detroit is one of the most talked-about cities in the country. There are more stories in the news about how Detroit is a wasteland than any other American city. But at the same time, there are also more stories nationwide about how Detroit is the new underdog, making a comeback of untold proportions. The New York Times profiles our "young muscles." National publications like BusinessWeek and the Atlantic talk about our "rising," and our "resurgence." And even the L.A. Times talks about our artists.

I want to talk about our artists too. Because if there is one thing that the city of Detroit does better than just about anywhere else, it's turning life into art.

Have you seen the Heidelberg Project? If you haven't, then plug it into Maps and take a drive. To us "ordinary folks," it's some parts strange, equal parts weird, and most certainly interesting. But to Tyree Guyton, it's a calling. More than a passion project, it's an expression of emotion and a pushing of boundaries. Once you'll see it, you'll either love it or hate it, but I'll be damned if it doesn't make you feel something.

Then there are the artists remaking the city through enterprise. Yes, enterprise. You see, when an entrepreneur comes to the city of Detroit, they know they're not just starting a business; they're contributing a brushstroke to the majestic canvas that is our city.

I went to Detroit SOUP this past month, and if you haven't gone, it's quite a magical evening. As I sat down at a table of lovely people, I noticed the vibe was both welcoming and eclectic. People don't come to events in Detroit to show off, whether it's haute couture or big egos. They come to take part in the dream of turning what's ordinary into greatness, to turn an abandoned school gym into an environment for creativity, collaboration, and inspiration. If that isn't art, I don't know what is.

One presenter at SOUP spoke about starting an organization to help young Detroit girls learn to read. She talked about how the literacy rate for the city's girls is abysmally low, and how she wanted girls to own their books so they would learn to love reading and engaging with the material in a way that made sense to them. Warmed my heart. Another is painting murals on an abandoned building near Slows, with the faces of Detroit legends. Rosa Parks. Walter Reuther. She was asking for funds, but only for paint and supplies. Her time was her gift to the city. Then three young college kids talked about creating a fundraising platform for Detroit businesses. A Kickstarter, if you will, for the city of Detroit. And the winning business was a young woman who wouldn't give up on her dream of bringing Shakespeare to parks across Detroit. These are people starting amazing projects in the city, not for fame, or for money, but to contribute to the art that is life in Detroit.

I can't forget Detroit's still-burgeoning music scene. We've all heard of Mike Posner and Big Sean. Mike graduated from Groves High School in Birmingham, and Big Sean from Cass Tech. They've done awesome things for the city, even highlighting the city's most memorable landmarks in their recently released music video "Top of the World." But you might not have heard of artists like the soulful Alo Genius, though you've probably heard his music. Alo Genius is the music producer behind Big Sean's breakout Detroit anthem "People Mover," and he hasn't stopped moving and producing since. After releasing his S.H.E. (Silence Hears Everything) album, which debuted on iTunes and Spotify, he has continued developing his craft with local artists and is poised to follow Posner and Sean's tracks to the heights of success.

Says Alo Genius about the Detroit music scene:

Detroit music embodies sacrifice. Especially when [we artists] make club music, you can hear the commitment it took to get to that state of joyfulness. Through sacrifice there is triumph. That's how Detroit makes art.

Looking for something artsy to do on a Thursday night? If you haven't heard about 3rd Thursdays, then your evening just went to the next level. Every third Thursday, dozens of art galleries stay open late, with special programs, exhibitions, and drinks for Detroiters of every art persuasion. A recent third Thursday featured a sketching session at the Scarab Club, the Red Bull House of Art's features of new artists in Eastern Market, and conversations about what inspires Detroiters at the LTG Artist Studio. Third Thursdays runs until July 2016, so you'll have plenty of time to get your art on.

Feeling like you want to express yourself after hearing about all of this culture? The only question now is how you can contribute to the artscape that is the city of Detroit. Art can be created in many forms, and if you can envision a role for yourself in remaking this wonderful city, you can help the mosaic canvas that is Detroit become even more timeless.