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Baltimore is the New Detroit: Open Walls Baltimore Sounds a Lot Like Woodward Windows

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This post authored by Nicole Rupersburg of Eat It Detroit.

Last week Grist reported on the Open Walls Baltimore project, a totally legal outdoor street art exhibition that will adorn 20 walls with street art murals from now through the end of May. Any of this sound familiar?

"With its ample warehouse space, cheap rent, and proximity to the city’s [abandoned] train station, the district[s of Midtown, Corktown and Southwest] ha[ve] long been a haven for students from the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) [Wayne State University and College for Creative Studies] as well as for professional visual and performing artists, musicians, filmmakers, and other creative entrepreneurs."

Wait, it gets better:

"But this is also a place that never fully recovered from the 19687 race riots and decades of urban disinvestment."
Oh sure, the definition of public art in Detroit includes trash-strewn homes and statues of RoboCop. Recently though, public art in Detroit has taken on a whole new meaning ... and a whole new marketability. The Woodward Windows project is a partnership between SCM Studios and 323 East Gallery and has "activated seven vacant storefronts in Downtown Detroit with dozens of curated installations through a grassroots public art project" (so basically they make empty buildings more aesthetically pleasing in lieu of being financially viable, though two of the targeted buildings have already been sold since the project's inception).

Street art, the historically vilified red-headed stepchild of the Modern Art movement that until recently was dismissively written off by the masses as mere "graffiti," has found a whole new commercial viability with the unlikeliest of proponents: our favorite design disaster Dan Gilbert! One of Detroit's most prolific and commercially successful street artists Antonio "Shades" Agee has been a busy guy lately catering to the design whims of Big D. In fact, Shades works for dozens of different corporate clients now, demonstrating that the commodification of street art for commercial use is simply the evolution of an artform.

Hell, even superstar street artist Banksy saw fit to pay Detroit a visit.

Placing a value on our street art is certainly nothing new; when the Dequindre Cut Greenway was still in its early planning stages, enough of an uproar was raised over maintaining the iconic murals of the Cut that the bridge abutments along the trail were left largely untouched. Construction project manager Michael Dempsey was quoted in 2007 saying, "Unless it is obscene or offensive, our policy is to leave it in place. We also want to encourage new works to the extent that the artists are willing to do that - as long as they pick up their aerosol cans after themselves!"

In fact, intricate, color-soaked murals are more prolific in Detroit than most people consciously realize. Perhaps it's because they've become so much a part of the landscape that we fail to notice them as anything remarkable and distinct, but in November the blog "I Love Detroit Michigan" took a look at the 50 "definitive" outdoor murals in Detroit - consider that the word "definitive" implies that there are a whole lot more out there that didn't make the list, and Detroit makes Baltimore's little 20-mural project look like a small backwater town's meager (if impressive) gallery collection stacked up against the Smithsonian's.

Sure, some of the "definitive" murals are more of an eyesore than they are eye-catching, but the point is for all the increasingly tiresome usage of the artists-save-Detroit meme, the culture of the street art counterculture has been a prominent element of Detroit's cityscape for decades, and the city has always embraced it. In other words, we did it first. Also, all of our works were created by local artists - not some rand-o's flown in from halfway across the world.

For more examples of public art in Detroit, check out our official map.

· Gallery walls: Cities embrace street art as a ticket to success [Grist]
· Woodward Windows [Street Culture Mash]
· Downtown Detroit's New Decor is An Atrocious Attention Whore [Curbed Detroit]
· 50 Outdoor Murals in Detroit [I Love Detroit Michigan]
· Detroit's Public Art Scene is Thriving And We Have The Map! [Curbed Detroit]
· Frita Batido's: Street Food Meets Street Art [Eat It Detroit]
· Banksy Bombs Detroit [Metro Times]
· Blinded by the Arts [Metro Times]
· Dequindre Cut revealed as a gallery of graffiti masterworks [Detroit News]
· Work starts on Dequindre Cut's transformation [Model D]