Skate House, Squash House, Play House

Power House Productions

Funding Received: 2012
Detroit, MI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
December 30, 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.

Co-Director Mitch Cope lives and works in the neighborhood.

ARTPLACE: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date? How have you dealt with it?

COPE: I think what drives us is also what is the most difficult and frustrating thing we deal with day to day – the devaluing of property and the crime that takes place in and around abandoned property. The kind of crime ranges from annoying to very serious, with most of it being what I would describe as annoying crimes such as illegal dumping in vacant lots and scrapping metal out of abandoned properties. There is also a good deal of squatting, which we don’t consider to be a bad thing in and of itself if the squatters live in a property as if it were their own and are not contributing to the criminal element in the neighborhood.

Although the market has collapsed, the value of land and buildings still exist. Maybe not by traditional definitions of economic value or the need for shelter or home, but through other ways of seeing. This includes everything from the reuse of materials from a building or the use of the dirt for farming or a place to dump trash or the buying and selling of illicit drugs or as for the use of new kinds of art production and neighborhood building.

What we have discovered, while observing property values decline since the start of the foreclosure crisis, is that property and place itself have become of no marketable value, they are not able to be sold on the real estate market. And yet there still continues to be a great deal of interest in these properties. Taking a cue from those who have chosen to take properties apart for short term profit or become part of the criminal element for immediate gain, we have also learned to benefit from the devaluing of property. But our goal is to change the trajectory of this slide, turn it on its head, and reinvigorate the neighborhood to the extent that we can create places seen as positive signs of community engagement, aesthetic improvements and cultural stimulators, while at the same time attracting individuals to the neighborhood to fill in the gaps.

As a result, we have slowly begun to develop new strategies for re-marketing the properties to attract a new kind of property usage blended with a more traditional one, such as Graem Whyte’s sculptural Squash court inside a house or a home that is Skate ramp first and residence second or a performance and rehearsal space for The Hinterlands to Play.

In each case our thinking is long term – how do we take advantage of a short term negative situation for a long term positive gain? Thus, the problems we face that effect us the most are the ones that continue to drive us toward better and more aggressive projects in hopes that one day we will be ahead of those who only see the neighborhood as a place of negative opportunity.

The photo of Ben Wolf’s construction on an abandoned and burned out house is an example of taking a house that was dangerous and an eye sore, with no timeline in site to be cleaned up by anyone, and remake it as an artistic experiment, a venue, a tourist attraction, a visible symbol for a common neighborhood problem with an uncommon solution.

These projects become focal points and create an exchange amongst neighbors and visitors and newcomers alike. These moments and opportunities have been a driving force to overcome those who seek to tear the community apart for short-term gain, reinstating a value – both a market value as well as a meaningful value – to this place and time.