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April 18, 2013 - 2013 Culture Lab Detroit Conversation

Detroit is a city with an historic and prosperous past, an unstable present, and an uncertain future. But instability and uncertainty, in an ecological context, create opportunity for certain species that are able to adapt and successfully populate the environment. These species in Detroit are currently artists, designers, architects, and people with money, lots of it, all of which will be required to stabilize and redevelop this art deco, French-founded city. Fortunately, there are some organizations that are trying to understand, converse about, and organize this uncertainty into a more predictable and stable vector of economic and cultural progress. Among these, in addition to city and county government, are Pure Michigan’s Detroit efforts, Detroit Future City, and Culture Lab Detroit, to name only three.

On April 18, Culture Lab Detroit ( held an “evening of conversation and collaboration” at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Design Education, in conjunction with the College for Creative Studies ( As stated on The Henry Ford website (, “Culture Lab Detroit is a catalyst for conversations and collaborations between Detroit’s artists, designers, innovators, technologists and the larger design world…Culture Lab hopes to connect and inspire the best problem solvers in Detroit with world-class artists, innovators and thinkers internationally as a way to increase awareness and the imprint of Detroit’s creative community around the globe.”

The distinguished panel chosen as the catalysts for the discussion included:

David Stark, world-renowned event designer, author, and installation artist President and Creative Director, David Stark Design and Production
Mark Binelli, author of Detroit City is the Place to Be, Contributing Editor, Rolling Stone
Alison Gass, Curator of Contemporary Art, Eli and Edyth Broad Art Museum, Michigan State University
Toni Griffin, Founder, Urban Planning and Design for the American City Project Director, Detroit Works Long-Term Planning
Daniel Caudill, Creative Director, Shinola

Detroit Metro Mashup was there to witness the discussion and document the event with some photos. Jane Shulak of The Henry Ford introduced the event. Following that, there was to be a slide show demonstrating projects done by David Stark but, fortunately or unfortunately, the power failed, reserve lighting came on, and the end result was an open-ended discussion among all the panelists that consumed the entirety of the event. This open-ended discussion was why we think that the power failure wasn’t necessarily a terrible thing. The very nature of not having slides forced the event “off-script,” with the result being an extremely candid discussion among all the panelists and the audience. When asked, David Stark addressed how he got his start in the design world as a really good waiter who worked hard at being a painter and then a flower arranger, before he was finally noticed. His great-grandfather was Norman Rockwell’s assistant, possibly showing that some talents do run by family. Stark’s breakthrough project was the Robin Hood Foundation to Abolish Poverty in New York City, a seated dinner for 4000 people at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center. He created his art out of items donated by manufacturers, such as alarm clocks and sneakers, that were needed by the poor. The art could then be disassembled and donated.

All the panelists brought massive levels of experience, knowledge in their respective areas, and significant connections to Detroit and other urban cores to the discussion. The audience members were also not shy about entering the discussion, bringing out questions and concerns about the potential for gentrification, displacement of the currently ethnic majorities in some neighborhoods, and the impact of redevelopment by the wealthy on the poor residing in Detroit in general. To allay these concerns the panel, in particular Toni Griffin, pointed out that this was exactly the point of conversations like the one Culture Lab Detroit was having that evening and that such conversations should continue. It was also mentioned that, as these neighborhoods recover economically, jobs will be created and that poverty in the area should lessen.

DMM enjoyed attending the Culture Lab Detroit Event, as we did attending the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism. It is fantastic that so many groups and individuals are working in such creative manners to restart the engine of Detroit, the engine that powers Michigan.