I am not a native Detroiter, but I find myself downtown quite a bit. I only live about 20 minutes from the city, a straight shot down I-94. In the past, one of the bright spots in my frequent visits was driving by the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit.
During the day, it looks like another aging building in Detroit. There is top-to-bottom graffiti, a drab gray sidewalk and no obvious indicator of what the building might be. It sits amidst a variety of other random buildings; some brand new apartments for the University, some decrepit liquor stores and run-down shops. But at night, neon writing is visible and bright enough that any passerby would gravitate to it.
It used to gleam proudly, pronouncing "EVERYTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT." It made me feel good, I even stopped to take a picture of it one night. I went out of my way to show it to people who hadn’t seen it. My best friend moved into the apartments across the street and whenever someone asked where she lived, I always told them about the building, encouraging them to check it out. I thought it was such an awesome thing to put on a building, especially in a city where you might not expect the most positive outlook, let alone public displays of promise.
Around Halloween, I went to visit my friend at her apartment on
Woodward, across from the museum. Pulling into the parking lot, I
almost went off the road. Instead of the usual message of hope I looked
forward to, the words had changed, just slightly, now appending a
message of doom and despair: "NOTHING WILL BE ALRIGHT."
At first, I thought the building had somehow been vandalized. I stopped
and looked again. No, this was on purpose. My reaction now is the same
as it was then: "What the HELL!!!?" I may have even used a somewhat harsher word at the time.
I went up to my friend’s apartment and asked her about it. She shared
my shock and even admitted she had gone over to the museum and asked
what the change was all about. She was told it was to promote
conversation in the community and to consider it art.
I’m no artist and maybe I’m thinking about this too hard, but….is
that the right message? Is that something that should be emblazoned on
the busiest street of a city whose mayor just went to jail? Whose
largest companies are in Washington DC begging for a financial lifeline
to stay afloat? Should we put things like that on buildings where we’re
commonly referred to as being one of the most dangerous cities in the
country? Should that be on any building anywhere, ever?
In truth, it kind of offends me. While I get these are tough times,
being down about it is not the answer. I don’t always consider myself
Mary Sunshine, but I do think positive thinking gets us farther than
sensational, negative pieces of art. I have faith in Detroit. No, I
don’t live there, but I make efforts to be down there A LOT, spend my
hard-earned money there, tell any nay-sayers to look again and
generally be a supporter of the city. And now, when I tell people to
visit Detroit, let’ s just say I give them directions that don’t pass
by the MOCAD.
What do you think? Am I too worked up about it? How do you feel about it? Is it art? Is it really just about starting "conversations"? Or is it a message that embraces today’s negative thinking about cities like Detroit?
For reference, here are pictures of the building with both messages. Thanks to my friend Lisa for sending me the pictures.