January 2011: I am preparing for my first real visit to Detroit, the city of my birth. I am a Californian, where I have been since age one when my parents packed me into a car to seek fame and fortune in LA. It is strange to be defined by something unknown but when asked if I am a "native" Californian, I answer, "No, I was born in Detroit." It seems time to investigate what that means. So I have come "home" on my birthday to photograph Detroit.

This blog is part of an accompanying journal about the project.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Summer In The City

Compuware Downtown Community Garden, designed by Kenneth Weikal & Beth Hagenbuch

or the end of it, Labor Day weekend... and it is cold from the moment I am here, arriving before dawn on the redeye on Sunday morning 4 September. I had not been able to make "summer" before with my exhibition up so Labor Day seemed the time. Labor Day in the midWest and the East has more meaning than for a Southern Californian for it quite truly signals the end of a season of warmth. With its celebration, the city comes alive. And even with a dramatic seasonal announcement - thunderstorms closing down football at the U of Mich on Saturday night for the very first time and trees down with resultant power outages - Detroit in fact was jumping.

Major action was at Hart Plaza, the end of Woodward - the US's first paved boulevard - and the end of the country as well for Detroit is a border town and geographically unique as the only American city where, across the river, Canada is south of the United States. The annual Jazz Fest produced four full days of live music from Hart Plaza to Campus Martius. On Monday, an amazing number of Southeast Michigan union members from the UAW to electrical workers to teachers and government employees marched down Woodward for the well attended annual Labor Day Parade with the added benefit of a rousing address by President Obama. Their message in these troubled times: Jobs. Jobs. And more Jobs. The President heard them loud and clear.
Even without all of the people, Hart Plaza is a draw with its view to the river, the steps to the Riverfront, the fountain and best, public art that is internationally known. This includes Robert Graham's "Joe Louis Fist;" "Transcending," an arch commissioned by the Michigan Labor Legacy Project and funded solely through donations from union members without the aid of public or corporate money,designed to celebrate the history and contributions of labor (http://www.thedetroiter.com/site/laborpage.html); and the Underground Railroad Project, (actually twin sculptures, the second residing across the river in Windsor CAN) to commemorate Detroit's significant participation in helping slaves escape to freedom in the mid-1800s.(more on Ed Dwight's -the sculptor -pages http://www.eddwight.com/public_art/underground_railroads/index.htm ). I was told of an Underground Railroad Museum that I plan to visit on the next trip .

The trip re-adjusted with the weather, seemingly a mid-West condition that reminds my of my husband's memories of Chicago where Spring and Summer come and go so quickly. Thus Saturday before I arrived, the temperature was in the 90s before the thunderstorms and Tuesday, 6th of September, the weatherman advises to "pull out those parkas."

Luckily, even with the oft rainy weather or inclement skies, I wandered through urban gardens bursting with summer fruit and flowers or readying Fall planting. There are many greening programs in the city and I photographed the urban business-sponsored Compuware community garden in the shadow of the Book Cadillac; established non-profits (Earthworks Urban Farm, run by the Capuchin Frères); the Brush Park Community Organic Garden; in midtown, the North Cass Community Garden and the tenant-inspired citizen garden in front of the West Will Apartments, just down the block from the gated North Cass; the block effort by HushHouse Detroit in NorthwestGoldberg; to the Penrose ArtHouse & Art Garden, again designed by land planners/landscape architects Kenneth Weikal & Beth Hagenbuch for their non-profit, Growtown.Org, that created, in collaboration with Sam Thomas of Starr Development, a community space for Penrose Village Detroit, lovely modular homes in a forgotten neighborhood (E of Woodward, W of John R and 7 Mile) that attract and provide place for community youth to gather to create art and invest in agriculture and community effort, perhaps for life.

More on this in a following post.

West Will Apartments Garden

For now, as I start to review my photographs, it was lovely to end the visit with a chat
at the Fisher Building with a local preservationist and architectural aficionado, Mark Armitage, who is actively producing and filming a series of public/cable television programs on the buildings and people of Detroit.

There are hidden treasures in Detroit, the people at the very least but certainly as well the buildings, land and energy that depict a city working hard to preserve what is there and create a structure anew. It was a good trip.

Delta Airlines has graciously provided me with an incredible sunset view for my return trip home.

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