Friday, November 14, 2008

Renovate, add artists and create energy


Put creative people on blighted blocks and good things start to happen.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, for example, young artists are leading a
cultural uprising. The KK Projects in the long-neglected St. Roch
neighborhood have turned dilapidated houses into contemporary art

No disrespect to the Big Easy, but no place has more creative juice
than the D. Southwest Housing Solutions Corp., a nonprofit that has
developed 400 units of affordable housing, is building on that energy
at one its southwest Detroit projects.

After buying the Whitdel, Southwest Solutions asked the Contemporary
Art Institute of Detroit to help restore the building. The exchange led
to a partnership. CAID now uses the 1,500-square-foot Ladybug Gallery
in the basement for exhibitions, including video art, sculpture,
paintings and drawings. A ceramic studio will provide art education and
workshops to neighborhood children and other residents.

CAID also
makes tenant referrals. Whitdel is open to anyone with an income of no
more than 60% of the area median, or $29,300 for a single person. But
Southwest Solutions seeks painters, musicians, writers, sculptors and
other artists. They now occupy 10 of the units and make the place


Butler plays his flute in the Whitdel's lobby, where he says the
acoustics are great. The apartments in the newly renovated building in
southwest Detroit have become home for several artists.

When I first walked into the lobby last month, tenant Gerald Butler,
a 53-year-old flutist, was playing "Amazing Grace." He played it from
the heart. For the first time in his adult life, he has a real home.

feels blessed but, after a lifetime of letdowns, accepting the good can
be as hard as facing the bad. The one-bedroom apartment he moved into a
month earlier was still practically empty. Most of his stuff sat in a
shelter and he was almost afraid to move it. After decades of living on
the streets and in homeless shelters and relatives' basements, Butler
still couldn't believe his new life would last.

"You're almost afraid to hope," he told me. "I can't believe that last February I was on the street, freezing."

who has battled alcoholism and mental illness, learned to value his
life and take responsibility for it. He works as a street outreach and
peer support specialist and also as a musician in his five-piece
Recovery Band. He has played around the state, including performances
at the Gem Theatre and Detroit Yacht Club. Clean for 13 years, Butler
now earns enough to make the $455-a-month rent.

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