It was my third day on the job, and I was unclear and uncertain how to effectively "link the DIA to local community and economic development" when I discovered that Detroit Revealed: Photographs 2000-2010 was on the books from October 2011 - April 2012. What a gift.
It was almost immediate -- I designed a quick concept sketch on how to engage local, community based organizations to offer a creative response to this exhibition. Over time, through the collaboration of the museum and the Knight Foundation, we designed a community photography project that empowered residents and local organizations to access the museum and execute their own engagement goals in new ways.
On the cusp of a grant to support the project and the leap of faith that the DIA was willing to take to make this project a reality, I wrote these words in October.
REVEAL YOUR DETROIT
Detroit is in the eye of its beholders.
Home to countless identities, narratives and perspectives, to claim Detroit is to claim oneself in this sea of diverse possibility.
How, then, has Detroit achieved the profound distinction as the epitome of American decay and unrelenting collapse, failure, and ruin?
Such narrative begs the question: is this the image Detroit residents carry about their city?
For some perhaps, but certainly not for most.
Detroit is a complex entity. To see Detroit through its citizens' eyes is to see Detroit's kaleidoscopic reality in powerful, even beautiful ways. Whether a city or regional resident, this truth emerges everywhere one dares to ask.
Detroit's narrative is central to our local identity. Detroit's ruin narrative too quickly overshadows the importance of empowering residents to own their own story. For the narrative to truly shift, we must conscientiously solicit the voice of Detroit residents who are fully capable of imagining Detroit's next transformative era through their own unique experiences and perspectives.
In part, we must slow down the imagery and focus on particulars. To discern the contours of the whole, sometimes we must expose the minute details.
Indeed, words allow one conversation about Detroit. Images allow another.
If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, then we should do our utmost to capture as many as possible. In Detroit, with the DIA's support, this is our chance to empower local residents and give them voice. We can learn together by what we share and how we each carry this city in our minds eye. Let's give residents that chance to be the artists and trust them to show us what they find beautiful. Let's let residents Reveal Detroit for themselves and give them a forum to display their images for all to see.
I truly believed this was a critical opportunity not to be missed.
With the generous grant from the Knight Foundation, we were able to connect with over 50 community groups, 750 residents, and our social media channels as well.
All told, over 12,000 images were produced by Detroiters about the city they love.
Honestly, I'll never look at Detroit the same way again. Over 2,000 images comprise the Reveal Your Detroit display at the Detroit Public Library. It is an unabashedly local and undeniably beautiful compilation. Indeed, it is a digital photography display like no other I've ever seen.
I'm biased, sure. I'm proud too, of course. But, above all, I'm overwhelmed and humbled by the response.
Detroit is passion personified in every person who takes part and believes in this place; whether born here or not, this is our common bond.
My photographs? My Detroit? Very similar to everyone else -- some intimate shots of my home and the places in this city that give my time her identity, texture and purpose.
These images make me feel connected to this place, and truly remind me of what I love about Detroit.
Of course, mine are far from flawless; indeed, most were. But the point wasn't technically perfect images. The point was to uncover images that are meaningful because they honor ourselves and reveal personal perspectives on our common canvass -- the city.
So, I hope you can come sometime before August 15th. Come see how residents responded to the DIA's invitation to creatively respond to a local exhibition. And, if you took part or didn't, still ask yourself: how would you Reveal Your Detroit?
Hope to see you there!
Follow Bradford Frost on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BradfordFrost