Detroit art scene. Essentially it reinforces the point I've been making about the art of the commons. (See my posts here and here.)
The story talks about the artists, several of whom have been discussed in this blog on the subject, who are using Detroit's open spaces, physical and social, as a basis for what might be called a new imagined community (to use another of Benedict Anderson's terms) based on collaborative aesthetics.
A major part of the Times story discusses this past Sunday's meeting of Soup, which I attended.
Soup describes itself alternately as "a collaborative situation," "a public dinner," "a theatrical performance," and "a relational gathering connecting various communities," among other things. The premise is that each month people gather to share a meal and decide on a project to support. (Above left: diners enjoying a bit of repast at Soup on Aug. 1. All photos: Louis Aguilar via iPhone.) Volunteers make the soup and other parts of the meal are donated. (This month's salad was prepared by filmmaker Katie Barkel and Avalon Bakery provided bread.) Each person attending pays $5, the total proceeds of which are given to the project chosen in a democratic process from proposals submitted prior to the event.
Soup was founded by Kate Daughdrill (Above right, center left) and Jessica Hernandez (Above right, center right). Daughrill is a second-year grad student in print media at Cranbrook and Hernandez's family owns the building in Mexicantown where the meetings are held. Sunday's gathering was the seventh and attended by more than 100 people. There are similar projects, based on different themes, in Grand Rapids, Chicago, Denver, and Baltimore.
The monthly meetings are hosted by the person(s) making the main course. This month, two artists who are in Detroit as part of a residency made possible by a fellowship funded in the Netherlands played host. Besides introducing the proposals, they spoke on their impressions of Detroit and what made it different from their European experience. The artists Joao Evangelista, orginally from Portugal (lower photo above, standing right), and Nikos Doulos, originally from Greece (lower photo above, standing left), noted the biggest difference being what they repeatedly termed "agency," which means the ability of people to just up and do things without asking any authority for permission. Although the artists didn't acknowledge it, the biggest reason this is possible here in the town-soon-to-be-formerly-known as the Motor City is simply that there's usually no one around to stop you. Taking advantage of the breakdown of the division between public and private, which characterizes Detroit arguably above any other (former) major city in America, is what the art of the commons is all about.
This month's funds went to support the rehabilitation of a pocket park in the Woodbridge neighborhood. The group will use the money to buy wood and other materials to repair playground equipment and otherwise fix up the site. This "microfinancing" aspect of Soup raises another important issue, namely that of what's now being called "solidarity economics." Solidarity economics presumes that we're all in this mess together and aren't just seeking to maximize individual advantage. Figuring out how to govern common resources for the benefit of us all is an essential part of moving us toward a truly sustainable environment. Indeed, one of the two 2009 Nobel Prizes for Economics was given to Elinor Ostrom, specifically for her work on governing the commons.
Granted a 100 or so people having dinner and deciding to help fix up a small park is a pretty modest example of how that might work. But as they say, even a journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.