How Detroit Became a Maker Hotspot


(Photo: Courtesy of Timothy Orikri - Detroit Resurgence via Pierre Paul Design)

Makers are slowly but surely helping to regenerate the city of Detroit, which collapsed with the auto industry. Since the Michigan metropolis went under largely because it relied on a single corporate industry, diversification by creativity seems a fitting antidote. “When you take a city down to a low point, it requires such an enormous amount of heart and soul to rebuild,” says Shane Douglas of Douglas & Co., a designer and hand-maker of fine leather goods in Detroit.

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(Photo: Courtesy of Alicia Adamczyk of Forbes)

"Many people abandoned this city and ripped the ground out from under it. Those who remained are passion-driven people–artists, creators, and crafters who use their pleasures as a vehicle for business. There is such strength behind that kind of work. It is no longer just a hobby," Douglas says, reflecting on the vitality of the city’s patriots.

“No dream is too big for Detroit,” says his wife Melissa, an artist and lifetime Metro Detroiter and co-founder of Douglas & Co


(Photo: Courtesy of Forbes)

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Creatives from other cities are even moving in now. Brooklyn-born-and-bred Galapagos Art Space is relocating its 20-year-old performance center to Detroit after being priced out of New York. Galapagos bought nine buildings totaling 600,000 square feet and has plans to create a 10,000 square-foot lake near Detroit’s Corktown in an area some refer to as the “Hubbard-Richard” neighborhood.

Galapagos Executive Director Robert Elmes told the New York Times they bought the buildings for the price of a “small apartment in New York City” at the time. Among the buildings is “an old power plant that looks like a little Tate Modern,” Elmes said. Galapagos helped put Williamsburg, Brooklyn on the art map. Now it’ll give Detroit cache.


(Photo: Courtesy of Galapagos Art Space)

Detroit has its artistic mainstays like Cranbrook Academy for the Arts and College for Creative Studies, but unlike most cities, it does not have a creative district per-se. There’s creative stuff brewing everywhere here–in the Edison District, Corktown, and New Center even Downtown. A recent article by a New York Magazine writer on looked at nine artists who don’t plan on leaving Detroit anytime soon. They prize the honesty and edge of Detroit and the low cost of living.

Innovation may just become the lifeblood of this city’s reaches. Douglas & Co., for example, operates out of a workshop in Milwaukee Park Lofts, amidst abandoned factories and graffiti-covered walls and overpasses in the middle of Detroit. It is there that Shane and Melissa handcraft their leather products. They are among a crop of artists, makers, and artisan brands like Shinola that have rooted in Detroit as part of its revivification.


(Photo: Courtesy of Douglas & Co.)

Many makers work out of Ponyride, a co-op space that uses a rent subsidy to provide inexpensive space for socially-conscious artists and entrepreneurs to work.

Scores of nifty start ups in Detroit now sell locally made wares. Check out Shark Lion Studios, maker of wooden eyeglasses, Detroit Denim where jeans are hand stitched in the Motor City, and Local Portion, a Detroit-based ceramics company.

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Other local artists and makers include Tylonn Sawyer a College for Creative Studies (CCS) instructor who recently exhibited at the Red Bull Gallery of Art in Eastern Market, Alexandra Clark, owner of Hamtramck’s artisan chocolate shop Bon Bon Bon, and artist Kelly Guillory and writer Jaime Acocolla, the duo behind Ashur Collective, a graphic novel publishing enterprise.


(Photo: The Heidelberg Project courtesy of NBC)

Grace Lee Boggs, a Detroit-based author and social activist is one of many subjects interviewed and photographed in Detroit Resurgent, a recently published book of photographs, interviews, essays, and poetry that provides a powerful counter-narrative to the city as a Rust Belt wasteland. As she says in the book, “I think the sense that you have in Detroit is that it’s the end of something and the beginning of something new. It’s very rare that someone lives at that time, at that place, where something’s disappearing, vanishing into the past, and something new is emerging. That’s very inspiring, to be at that particular time.”

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