Multiplicity of the Arts and the Health of a City

By Sean Mann

“The point of cities is multiplicity of choice,” Jane Jacobs once wrote. I would add to that sentiment that the desirability of a city is tied to its ability to inspire and entertain.

Few things can inspire and entertain us like arts and cultural institutions and events. To this point I would argue that the health of a city is ultimately linked to the multiplicity of arts and culture opportunities it has to offer.

And while Michigan’s economy continues to struggle there are still amazing and offbeat ways to enrich our souls while enjoying our cities. In the city of Detroit for instance this past weekend, without much effort a person could have been able to experience arts and culture that ranged from a home-grown hipster fair to world class art exhibits to avant-garde art house cinema.

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A packed house for Handmade Detroit’s 4th Detroit Urban Craft Fair. Photo by Philip Southern 

Starting out Saturday morning an individual could have hit up the Handmade Detroit’s 4th annual Detroit Urban Craft Fair at the Majestic Theatre. The fair is always a packed event where folks of all shapes and sizes, although mostly tight-jeaned local hipsters, examine handmade products that range from soaps shaped like grenades to delightfully irreverent pillows with caricatures of Mr. Michael Jackson.

From there you could have easily traveled a half mile down Woodward to the Detroit Institute of Art to catch a world class photography exhibit. The DIA, the nation’s 6th largest art museum, is currently exhibiting an extensive and must-see, collection of the renowned fashion photographer Richard Avedon that is running until January 17th.

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A piece from the DIA’s Avedon exhibit. Copyrighted Richard Avedon Foundation

Or maybe you are a cinema buff and would rather see a film you can’t catch at the local multiplex. Well then you could have visited the new Burton Theatre, just a few blocks over from the Majestic on Cass Ave. The Burton Theatre is a new and truly special experience that is providing unique opportunities for local movie lovers. The theatre is actually the intimate and beautiful auditorium of a 1920′s elementary school the Detroit Public Schools recently decided it no longer had any use for. This weekend they were showing Bronson, a recent indie film from across the pond that is a cross between Clockwork Orange and Guy Ritchie’s latest. With its ultra violence Bronson would probably never be shown in the same multiplex where young girls are lining up to catch the latest Twilight film, which in some small way adds to the appeal.

Of course this is hardly an exhaustive list. It just happens to be the things I had on my plate this past weekend. There were countless other cultural offerings ranging from art galleries to stage productions that catered to audiences of a thousand to a few dozen .And the fact is someone could have been just as active in Grand Rapids this past weekend with visits to the GRAM or the UICA showing the Found Footage Festival on Sunday (which I’m very disappointed that I missed).

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What was once Burton Elementary School in now the independent Burton Theatre

Arts and cultural institutions of all shapes and sizes add to the rich fabric of a city and ultimately their viability. Increasingly young people are moving to cities that offer them the highest quality of life, even more so than where the job openings are located.

To this affect one has to ask if we are doing enough to support our cultural events and institutions. On a personal level we need to ask ourselves if we are appreciating the truly world class museums and events in this state and frequenting them enough. On a state funding level we certainly aren’t doing enough. State funding for arts and cultural programs has been cut by 90 percent since 2002, putting institutions and organizations on the verge of closing down.

Support for the arts goes beyond putting money in the pocket of artists; it is about preserving the unique character of our cities, increasing our quality of life and ultimately creating more complete human beings. Exposure to the arts at a young age fosters creativity, which is proving to be an increasingly indispensable skill in the 21st century economy that we are desperately trying to nurture in Michigan.

The Let’s Save Michigan campaign is a grassroots effort to get people personally involved in turning around Michigan through arts, culture and vibrant communities because we believe creating great, desirable cities is our road to renewed prosperity in the 21st century. To show your support for the arts sign our petition to tell the governor you won’t accept any more cuts to funding for arts and cultural programs.