The old furniture showroom at 4731 Grand River in Detroit features a mural of sign language spelling the word “LOVE.” Since 2001, it served as an arts incubator. An ownership change prompted evictions last month.
The evictions follow a host of other studio spaces for artists – including the Russell Street Industrial Center – that have closed, sold or displaced artists, said Sintex a well-known Detroit graffiti artist who used to live and work in the Grand River incubator.
“The growth of Detroit has forced artists to definitely hustle more. Instead of everyone being in the city, they are spread out more, to suburbs like Hazel Park,” said Sintex, who was born Brian Glass.
“The days of finding studios in old industrial spaces [in Detroit] are long gone.”
The new owner is seemingly the unlikeliest of evictors: Allied Media Projects, a nonprofit in Detroit dedicated to social change and “media for liberation,” according to its website. It took out a $2 million mortgage and plans to update the building to serve as its headquarters, along with other progressive nonprofits.
The goal is to use the building to “remediate the impact of gentrification at a minimum and resist the structures that perpetuate gentrification,” said its executive director, Jenny Lee.
The irony of a group fighting gentrification by committing one of its most brutal acts – eviction – isn’t lost on Lee.
“It sucks that our vision has to come at the cost of artists who have used and loved that space,” Lee said. “There’s no way around it. It absolutely sucks.”
Along with the reality of gentrification, and the system’s upheaval of the very residents who created a desirable environment in the first place, is the tragedy that artists and creatives are not respected for the value they bring to a community. Creators like Sintex Graffiti are the breath and life of this community. Activists like Allied Media Projects have long worked to protect those very artists and the residents of this community.
In the end, the economics of gentrification can pit natural allies against each other in the ongoing struggle to survive.