How to Create an Urban Writers Colony in Four Steps (And Get Paid for It)

How can you turn a negative into a positive? Some of the most innovative arts projects in recent years have originated in the Motor City by individuals addressing this exact question. Case in point: a group of local organizations are working to turn Detroit into a writer's mecca, and Public Pool, an art space for writers founded by writers, is its dynamic hub. Public Pool was also the recent recipient of a $15,000 funding from the Knight Foundation.

Now we admit, Detroit isn't your average city. Nonetheless, it's worth asking how nonprofit organizations in distressed cities can turn the "bad into good" and get funding from foundations like Knight. Here are four tips:

1. Dial up your history. Did you know that writers like poets Robert Hayden, Dudley Randall, Philip Levine, and the legendary novelist and screenwriter Elmore Leonard (just to name a few) called Detroit home? Public Pool and their burgeoning counterparts contextualize their efforts as an extension of Detroit's rich literary history.

2. Make your city writer-friendly. An obvious suggestion, but one that's difficult in practice. Perhaps the best example of "turning a negative into a positive" is Write a House, an organization that transforms abandoned or foreclosed Detroit homes and turns them into writers' retreats. They recently purchased two homes for a total price of $2,000 and hope to raise $25,000 towards the renovation of the houses by Feb. 15th.

3. Identify your strengths and stick to them. Detroit's emerging literary scene is akin to an ecosystem whereby certain organizations handle certain roles. Write a House, naturally, provides housing for writers, Public Pool serves as the scene's nexus point, and Power House Productions, another Detroit organization, is currently developing an outdoor art park.

4. Turn events into "happenings." The Knight Foundation's $15,000 grant to Public Pool went to its "Good Tyme Writer’s Buffet" program. The event brings together writers for short readings in a relaxed gallery setting where they are surrounded by art, a table full of food, and a DJ who spins during the breaks.

It's worth noting that one can replace the word "writers" in the title of this post with "theater" or "dance" and these lessons would still apply. That said, Detroit's literary heritage and abnormal housing situation $1,000 for a house! makes it uniquely positioned to transform itself into a writer's haven.