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Detroit wins Rust Belt artist conference

Posted on by roseann

Event highlights industrial cities’ assets Read full article in Crains Detroit Business

Detroit has won a bid to host the third From Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference, an event showcasing the assets Midwestern industrial cities have to support artists and artist-based community development.

Wayne State University‘sTechTown led the city’s bid for the conference, working with a number of other local organizations, including The Heidelberg Project,Contemporary Art Institute of DetroitMuseum of Contemporary Art and Design and WSU College of Fine, Performing, and Communication Arts.

The group should know in the next couple of weeks when the conference will be held, said Julie Brock, development director for TechTown.

TechTown has hired Leslie Sobel, an independent artist from Milan and president of the Milan Area Arts Council, to help plan the conference and to expand participation of arts organizations beyond Detroit to those in other Southeast Michigan counties, Brock said.

“The conference is centered on the idea that rust belt cities are the perfect breeding ground for new artists, with low-cost living, industrial spaces and open land you can’t get in New York or (Los Angeles,)” Brock said.

“Because it’s been so successful in Cleveland the past two years, they wanted one of the other rust belt cities to take it.”

Cleveland’s Community Partnership for Arts and Culture started the conference two years ago.

“In a city like Cleveland or Detroit, what we typically have seen or framed as a real disadvantage or problem in these communities (vacant housing, land and warehouses) actually is affording artists an opportunity to be creative and to go out and do something like the Heidelberg Project,” said Seth Beattie, program manager at the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture.

An artist living in New York likely will not be able to experiment and open a gallery or launch a community arts project in a vacant parcel because there’s such a scarcity of land, he said.

“Collectively, we in the industrial Midwest have things in our communities in which artists can carry out there work. There are specific amenities we have compared to newer cities,” Beattie said.

Industrial cities in the U.S have strong arts and culture sectors because the arts were heavily endowed at the turn of the century, largely by philanthropists who’d made their fortunes in industries.

That offers artists employment opportunities and a strong base of arts supporters, Beattie said.

The industrial Midwestern cities also have very affordable access to space that allows artists to be creative and use their imaginations in the ways they live their lives, he said.

Detroit’s Russell Industrial complex, for example, has literally hundreds of thousands of square feet of affordable space where artists can come to work, Beattie said.

If you were looking at a similar building in New York or San Francisco, developers might not be inclined to gear that building to artists. And even if they did, it would be exclusive to artists who could afford a very high-cost space, he said.

In Detroit’s proposal to host the Rust Belt to Artist Belt conference, “there was a lot of passion to talk about creative ways to revitalize neighborhoods and support artists,” Beattie said.

“Detroit was specifically chosen because of the collaborative nature of the proposal and the amazing work that’s going on in (the city) right now.”

Sherri Welch: (313) 446-1694,

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