“op·por·tu·ni·ty: a good chance for advancement or progress”
When people think of opportunity, they associate it with a new or fresh start, a way to make change that may lead to a set of positive circumstances. With Detroit emerged in years of mismanagement, corruption, blight and a towering debt, one can often become lost in the distant memory of one of the most iconic U.S. cities. It’s this very road map that has acted as a landscape to many artists, filmmakers, musicians and entrepreneurs who now look to Detroit as an artistic Mecca. While many people tend to associate Detroit with abandonment, this group of creatives see Detroit as a blank canvas and see the true beauty and passion that not only lies within the walls of the city, but in the hearts of Detroiters.
One prime example is that of one of Auckland, New Zealand’s most decorated artists, Askew. Campaigning on his laptop from a world away, Askew first got his taste of Detroit in the cold month of December in 2009. Since then he has made it a point to come back to the city almost every year since his first arrival. With a 16-hour time differential, Askew has blogged about the beauty and creativity that is instilled in this city. Whether he talks about the reemergence of neighborhoods such as Corktown and Eastern Market or the gritty Detroit hip-hop scene, Askew is constantly finding ways to help bring Detroit into a positive light. I was able to sit down and discuss with Askew his views on the city on the eve of his very first solo Detroit show entitled “Entropy.”
You have a strong desire to always return to the city. What draws you and other like-minded artists to Detroit?
Askew: The thing I like specifically about Detroit, when you have a situation like this, essentially the city is financially exhausted or bankrupt, you don’t have an overbearing local government. A lot of people say that is a curse, because municipal infrastructure doesn’t get maintained, but it also creates a sense of autonomy especially where creative people are concerned. There are certain freedoms to create an atmosphere or a vibe in the city, which are independent among committees. I also like Detroit because it’s a city of doers, because if you sit around and wait for things to happen, they’re not going to happen, nobody is going to make it happen for you. All the good stuff that happens here, happens off the back of people that are just taking advantage of what they have. They have cheap rent, ample space and freedom that you don’t have in other places.
Living a world away, what makes Detroit a city you campaign for?
Askew: The similarities between Detroit and my hometown, Auckland. When I was growing up in my city in the 90s, it was very archaic and we had the 1987 stock market crash. Our city was not very diligent about maintaining things and you could still live in a kind of free way. Our infrastructure was falling to pieces and there was graffiti everywhere. This resonates with me, this was the landscape of my childhood, my teenage years, “my coming of age” and I used to feel a lot of freedom but a lot of people didn’t like that. As the city and financial structure healed, it got better and better in some people’s eyes, but for me and my friends it became worse, because it became a more oppressive place to be. The first time I came to Detroit I got a bit of a skewed perspective of it because it was the dead of winter so I thought it was much more bleak and post apocalyptic than it really is. My subsequent three visits have all been in the summer and I have seen what an alive and happening place it is, with a thriving art scene. The other thing that I enjoy here is the creativity that has always resonated from here. When I was first approached to come out here, it wasn’t because of abandonment and urban decay that made me want to come here. It was because so much worthwhile music and art has come from the city and that has always fascinated me. I asked myself what is it that makes all this good stuff come from one place?
To see Askew’s work in person, visit the Inner State Gallery in Detroit! The exhibit will be up until September 19. For more information please visit InnerStateGallery.com or Askew1.com.