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Art transforms Detroit neighbourhood (con't) 

It has also become a creative gathering spot for numerous graffiti artists as a place to harness their talents.

The key figure behind the project admits he’s an unlikely person to create an avant garde and community arts centre.

Derek Weaver is from downriver Monroe Michigan and fresh out of high school got his real estate licence.

He says he “wouldn’t have known a Picasso to see it.”

But every day he would drive from his downtown office through the desolate strip and thought about the real estate possibilities that have now resulted in 15 buildings coming to life on the abandoned blocks.

But Weaver’s “passion” was always to redevelop buildings so this area provided more than a golden opportunity.

But it’s hardly a dollars and cents proposition.

“This was an opportunity to change that neighbourhood,” he says.

But even the best intentions can fail if there is no way to connect people to an area.

Weaver’s solution was art.

Not only has colourful murals and a sculpture park enlivened the bleak street but they have humanized it and made it appealing for people to stop and visit.

“Art and entrepreneurship is so important to the success of any urban city,” he says. “And we have that here in Detroit.”

Some of those graffiti artists – names like Sintex, Clifton Perry and Sydney James, have been responsible for some of the large murals.

The murals depict people from the neighborhood, famous Motown stars, and there is a wall labelled Art of War.

Weaver says he’s not afraid of the art being vandalized, despite the neighbourhood’s vulnerability to crime.

He said using graffiti artists establishes a solidarity with people in the community and others who might otherwise destroy fine art.

Those people “respect it,” he says.

That ties into Weaver’s philosophy of building bridges with the people who still live in the area.

“Coming into a community you have to build relationships with the people who are here.”

The area is only several blocks west of Detroit’s thriving Midtown district and Wayne State University, which has flourishing new restaurants, bars and lofts.

Weaver hopes that more blocks like this can be restored, people moving back in, shops opening, and street life connected to nearby stable blocks, knitting the city back together.

“The first step is you have to change how people look at a neighbourhood.”


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