Come Out to Play

Letter from the Editor

Pity the kids who grow up in totally pristine and manicured environments.

The “kid runway” at my house had the luck to lie between and behind the homes of 10 children. Its casual state allowed boys to dig a 3-foot hole that got filled to its muddy capacity with a garden hose. Girls with brooms swept the dirt beneath old lilac bushes whose arching branches created a house where they enacted an elaborate neighborhood pecking order.

Giant water-balloon slingshots dented siding, a tennis ball shattered a garage window, and patio smoke bombs had parents scrambling to shut windows.

I thought of that formative scenario while visiting the DIA exhibit Detroit Revealed on its final day. We admired the display of skill, artistry, and personality and felt the devastation depicted in the framed works. When we left the museum on that blue-sky Sunday, present-day Detroit continued to be revealed through its evolving story on a public playground. An orchestra performed in the sun beside the DIA’s Farnsworth entrance while museum patrons, doting parents, and panhandlers looked on.

Just a mile or so away, at an ad hoc art park, a potluck brunch had been assembled in the grass where a gathering of grown-ups saw, like kids, the appeal of an unformed and non-manicured space where they could play. Like American pioneers, they savored a new-millennium version of staking a claim on unfettered land.

“Things change. Now I’m an art installation,” proclaimed spray-painted scrawl on a nearby train-viaduct support column.

Things do change. We record the past, love the memory, lament the loss. But we have to get out there like kids and reshape the space — so long as we don’t destroy the parts worth preserving. Change too much and, like the tragedy of actress Jennifer Grey’s surgery-shrunken nose, we’ll lose our identity.

Corine Vermeulen, a Netherlands-born photographer whose work was featured in Detroit Revealed, says that every year she lives in Detroit “a new layer of reality reveals itself.”

That reveal (a word the reality makeover shows love to use) should showcase more than abandoned relics from the industrial era. The reveal should include a vision, one in which artistry and quality follow the raw dream behind free-form street art.

Here’s a start. If an interested party comes to the game (think Michigan State University and farming) why not at least entertain the offer? Not so long ago, Detroit had precious few playmates eyeing its spaces. Now, the kids are circling, and as smart parents know, it’s wise to let them have fun — right in our own backyard.

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