Skate House, Squash House, Play House

Power House Productions

Funding Received: 2012
Detroit, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
November 22, 2012

Power House Productions (PHP) is an artist-run, neighborhood-based organization located in Detroit, Michigan. Their mission is to develop and implement creative neighborhood stabilization strategies, integrating artists’ projects and live-work spaces within the existing cultural resources of the community. What does this mean? It means that creative thinkers are actively engaged in the changing the trajectory of the neighborhood by working there and having conversations with neighbors, developing lasting, long term relationships and cross-cultural understanding.Have you gained any political traction with your efforts? If so, with whom and how did you do it?

MITCH COPE & GINA REICHERT, the organization’s founders & Co-Directors, sat down to answer the November blog question. Here’s what they had to say:

We haven’t really set out to gain political traction; however, that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to. Our main concerns are more hyper local – how can we gain support from our community and the leaders within the community? This is something I think we have done quite well because community leaders see us working everyday and understand the effect we are having on the immediate neighborhood. That said, there are people within the larger city government that know about us.

For example, Karla Henderson, Mayor Dave Bing's head of planning and facilities, has toured the neighborhood and is supportive of the work we do. In an excerpt from a recent article in the Detroit News, Henderson states that while “she hasn't yet seen the skate park [she] knows the pair's work on Moran Street. "I'm not an artist," she said, "but obviously that project got worldwide attention and brought in some incredibly creative people who wanted to be part of it. You don't want to stifle that kind of creative energy.”

- from The Detroit News:

This might be a good time to note that media attention goes a long way in gaining the attention of politicians. I don’t mean this in a cynical way, it’s just a simple reality of spotlight and exposure. When one of our projects makes the front page of the local paper, local leaders take note. This kind of media exposure took some getting use to and at times has felt like a burden, but it really does go a long way in terms of legitimizing the work and giving us leverage with officials and the City.

The City of Detroit, leaders and citizens alike, are all painfully aware of the current situation we find ourselves in, economically, socially, and in regard to infrastructure and quality of life issues. The Mayor has repeatedly asked citizens to take responsibility for their neighborhoods and issues facing all of us who live here. We have gained respect with city officials because we are offering ways of addressing issues in our neighborhood without asking for any monetary resources from the government. We may not have any definitive answers, but we do offer positive and productive strategies for addressing the needs and desires of our community; going beyond pragmatic issues to transform and inspire the neighborhood. These are results that politicians can’t help but want to understand or even replicate as models elsewhere.

EXTRA QUESTION: What role does government play in your work?

Art & politics don’t really mix. In the simplest terms, artists take risks and their work is often the richer for this, while politicians attempt to minimize and control risk.

The projects we have facilitated in our neighborhood have been able to succeed because we found a balance between creativity and policy, playing by the rules when we need to and pushing back a bit when it serves the projects. We have respect for the rules but are not afraid to break them when it comes to those that are illogical or outdated or stand in the way of a good idea. And we’ve definitely taken the approach that it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission! City officials have been generous in their forgiving of our missteps and I think this is because we are responsive to their demands when they make them, building relationships and finding allies. For better or worse, given the state of things in our city, this is how we’ve been able to proceed.

PHOTO: demo day clean up at Play House