Re-imagining Revitalization: Thoughts on MicroFest: Detroit
As artist, cultural worker, and organizer, Michael Premo offers a prismatic lens through which Detroit appears as an “incubator of possibility,” a place where an affirmative path forward is being forged by creativity. He reflects on the exemplary work of The Alley Project, Detroit Summer, Matrix Theatre Company, and Detroit Future Youth to highlight how young people are stepping up as the next generation of artist-activists, leaders, and perpetuators of the character and spirit that is uniquely Detroit. They are adding their own fresh vision on creative process and product. Premo observes the importance of intergenerational learning and mentoring, too, in these examples and especially in the work and influence of elder philosopher and social activist Grace Lee Boggs and her late husband, organizer Jimmy Boggs. The snarly topic of gentrification is front and center. Premo unpacks the complexities of the forces at play in Detroit (and beyond) to reveal the limits of the term “gentrification” in describing what is happening here. He observes the purposefulness guiding many good initiatives and organizations whether they are exercising a more market-based or creative value-based approach. He highlights the artist, educator, and MC known as Invincible and her collaborative performance piece Complex Movements which, in part, critiques the renaming of Detroit’s Cass Corridor neighborhood as a blatant example of gentrification. Looking nationally at gentrification, he reveals the typical scenario (artists entering and improving decaying locations, then being forced out) as only one of many kinds of displacement cycles prompted by economic and social forces. Finally, Premo examines power as a critical determinant in how arts and culture can play their most impactful roles in revitalizing place. The past’s “industrial logic” and “assembly line thinking” no longer make sense in Detroit and other post-industrial cities. He credits the arts, artists, and collective imagination of groups featured in and around Detroit as breaking out of that logic. They offer new models—characterized by transformational intention, holistic approaches, and meaningfully shared power and leadership—to move a post-industrial city forward.