They say Detroit is the Wild West of graffiti. Or at least they used to.
Suffering decades of economic blight, stocked with a hundred thousand vacant buildings, and a police force with bigger problems on their hands, Detroit has become known worldwide as a street artist’s paradise. As the city depopulated, more walls became available for murals, tags, wheat pasting, stuffed animals, you name it.
Often misunderstood as a signifier of blight, Detroit’s graffiti, like all graffiti is more a reaction to it. There is a fundamental human need to make art, to mark territory, to write messages to one another on walls. Street art is in fact an indicator of a healthy community – a community speaking to itself, in public, in the commons. It is the last surviving classic art movement, a pure act of tactical urbanism long before the term existed.
Detroit’s so-called rebirth narrative is drenched in billionaire cash, framed by developer public relations branding. It is a marketing pitch that profits from the grit and soul of Detroit’s illegal street art while those with money aim to eradicate as much unsanctioned artwork as possible, lest the nervous new tourists start fidgeting.