Closing Bell: From Brooklyn to Flint, Mich., and Back

free-cities-flint-032713Hate to see gentrification in Brooklyn? Well, Flint, Mich., could use a little of it. That’s the idea behind the Flint Public Art Project, which Greenpoint resident and Flint native Stephen Zacks has started. They’re putting on a summer performance series in a pair of abandoned grain silos, outfitting a former school bus to serve as mobile restaurant and classroom, and turning a former Chevrolet manufacturing site into an immersive environment filled with work by emerging contemporary artists and designers both local and international, among other projects. Many of the artists live in New York, and tonight in Downtown Brooklyn there will be a party and fundraiser, called Free Cities, for the Flint Public Art Project at the Metropolitan Exchange at 33 Flatbush Avenue, 5th Floor, from 8 to 10 pm. “This party is in support of a broader effort to redistribute cultural capital, deconcentrate it, and to prove it really is useful and can produce something economically beneficial outside of the bubble of New York,” said Zacks. At the party will be food, drink, and a silent auction of art from New York- and Flint-based artists and makers as well as virtual video tours of Flint.


14 Comment

  • I live in Flint Michigan and it was never disclosed the ultimate goal for the Flint Public Art Project was gentrification. I would be curious to know if these are the words of the blog or Stephen Zacks. As someone who works in both the art and social justice communities in Flint and around the state of Michigan, it is troubling to read such divisive and polarizing language used to describe a project that I was under the impression would be utilizing the principles of transformative organizing.

  • Artists coming to “gentrify” Flint? I suppose that would explain why they describe themselves as “pioneers” coming to “reclaim” the city from us locals. Hang on to your paint brushes, kids, because the words you draw with aren’t helping at all.

  • We have become the canvas that New York artists and “intellectuals” use. The goal as far as i’ve been able to see is to bring NYC artists into Fint to teach us how to look at and analyze OUR city. Even in the “Free Cities” advert above NYC precedes FLint. This is another example of outsiders exploiting our citizens, our city, and our culture.
    This is not art for us or by us.

  • Hello,

    I grew up in Flint City and its suburbs, spent 14 years in Chicago and Brooklyn, and now I live in Flint again. I have always believed that collaboration across borders is a tremendous advantage, and I am happy to see more of it in Flint.

    That said, nobody “could use a little” gentrification, because one never gets just “a little.” It’s whole hog or no dice. When I lived in a walk-up on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene neighborhood I had to watch as the only supermarket (and a pretty poor one at that) was demolished to make way for a high rise residential tower. Presumably the tower’s new residents could afford to have their food delivered, or they picked it up on their commute from Manhattan each day. It didn’t work out quite so well for the residents of the extensive Walt Whitman homes across the street. This is, sadly, what we’re dealing with in Flint, Michigan as well, and if you are helping to gentrify us, then you’re exploiting this city as pretty much everyone else has.

    But if artists come here with truly open eyes and are willing to see things other than lofts downtown and ghostly naked houses, there’s a lot to pay attention to. Groundbreaking verbatim theater is being performed by Shop Floor Theatre and Flint Youth Theatre has raised the standard of such work around the country. Our arts community is thriving, not only through recognized establishments like Buckham Gallery and the Greater Flint Arts Council, but also through informal galleries and events held across town. Our Farmers Market has extensive networks with urban garderners such as King Karate and Peace Mob in the outlying neighborhoods, and they are transforming this city from the ground up.

    None of this is to say that Flint doesn’t have grave and persistent issues… we all know that it does. It is to say that we are already hard at work, good work. We will resent anyone who shows up to reinforce perceptions that this is a ghettoized no-go zone, but we will welcome true partners, from whom we can learn and who are willing to learn from us. We need partners, not parents.


    Connor Coyne

  • AMEN

    Thank you Flint artists for so eloquently speaking up.

    Greg Fiedler
    Greater Flint Arts Council

  • While I don’t believe the intention of the Flint Public Art Project is to gentrify the city of Flint, this article does raise concerns for me about how representatives of the Flint Public Art Project are talking about this community when they leave, or travel elsewhere.

    I’m an artist who currently lives in Flint, and the majority of my work is made with and for specific communities. Over the last 18 months I’ve also had the opportunity to take part in a larger national dialogue about community-engaged art and creative-placemaking by attending events in locations including Detroit, New Orleans, and Phoenix (and trust me, gentrification always comes up).

    Whenever I attend one of these gatherings, I constantly find myself having to defend Flint to other attendees. While I appreciate the opportunity to serve as an ambassador for the greater Flint community, I’m also very conscious that my opinions and experience of living and creating work in this city may be different from others who have lived here a lot longer that I have. I can only speak to my own experience, but I understand that I must choose my words carefully.

    If the opening sentence in this article was simply the writer missing the point or misinterpreting the intention of the Flint Public Art Project, where is the official response from the organization? It seems like a easy opportunity to set the record straight, but ignoring genuine questions that have been raised may cause further speculation as to exactly what the intention of this group is.

    Andrew Morton

  • Flint needs many things, but gentrification is not one of them. I hope this can spark a larger conversation about how “creative capital” has played a significant role in gentrification in other parts of the country, and how that can be avoided in Flint. How can Flint Public Art Project and local artists in Flint learn from the mistakes of other urban areas? The model of artistic imperialism is no longer feasible to replicate as it is not sustainable, and will cause more damage to the cultural fabric of a community than good. I hope that Flint Public Art Project has the foresight and awareness to incorporate a sustainable plan to finish it’s current projects, and possibly continue its work through community engagement.

  • Stephen Zacks did not use the word “gentrification” when speaking to me. He said “The overall argument for this project is that it’s trying to move cultural producers to work in an area where their efforts will produce an increase in real estate values in places where it’s more useful and less destructive than here in our adopted home in Brooklyn, where every time a DIY craftivist hangs a piece of colorful piece of yarn real estate prices go up ten percent. I’m a former editor at Metropolis, a contributor to the Architects Newspaper and other like magazines and newspapers, and a Flint native who has lived in Greenpoint for 15 years. In the past few years I have become somewhat terrified about what a festival I co-produced, Bring to Light, Nuit Blanche New York, has helped produce in my neighborhood. I saw this happen nearly 20 years ago on Ludlow Street, where I was a member co-director of Collective: Unconscious, and I somewhat reconciled with it as part of the process of change that makes New York great. Many of the collaborators on this project live in New York but are happy for the opportunity to find other landscapes in which to work, however much we love our adopted home. This party is in support of this effort, and of a broader effort to redistribute cultural capital, deconcentrate it, and to prove it really is useful and can produce something economically beneficial outside of the bubble of New York.”

  • This entire argument is absurd — both in Brooklyn and Flint. The choice is not between “gentrification” and some kind of paradisiacal egalitarian development, folks. It’s between growth and decline. And it certainly is not a choice that artists or factory workers are making for everyone else. These trends are broader than any one individual or group. The bottom line, however, is that cities should be allowed to grow for whoever wants to be there. Why are people not more offended at the presumed right of existing residents to close the doors to newcomers as they seek to maintain some kind of exclusive domain over their neighborhoods? The right to emigrate is a fundamental one in this country, and indeed was at the core of its founding. It’s the Native Americans who should be complaining about the “gentrification” and send us all home to…Europe? Africa? Just think of what a Brooklyn apartment must have gone for if they sold Manhattan for $17.

  • I’m a little late to this post but I will say that I find this article troubling. From the use of the term “gentrification” to the implication that cultural capital doesn’t already exist in Flint, the elitism conveyed in this piece is problematic. I’m not sure whose idea it was to use the term “gentrification”, but either way, it was a poor choice and one that FPAP should address head-on.

    While I appreciate the efforts of FPAP, I hope they understand and appreciate that they are part of a broader community of artists and organizations that have been using art for engagement, viability, raising awareness, and creating social change for quite some time. Their vision, which is valuable and has been welcomed, works in tandem with the the organizations and individuals that have been doing this work before they came.