Meet the Nonprofit Leading Detroit's Transformation Into the National Model of Creative Placemaking

As we've noted many times here at IP, Detroit's revitalization doubles as a fascinating sociological case study on how to create communities from scratch. And when we say "scratch," we mean it.

City officials razed entire city blocks. Some neighborhoods exist completely off the grid. Artists, immigrants, and long-time residents work in tandem to rebuild without interference from city planners or bureaucrats.

It sounds exciting, bold, and mildly intimidating. But is it all actually working?

News out of Detroit and from the Andy Warhol Foundation's press office suggests that not only is this grand experiment humming along, it's actually exceeding expectations.

The foundation recently awarded an $80,000 grant to Power House Productions, a unique artist-run, socially-engaged organization situated within a blighted neighborhood of northern Detroit. Power House has been instrumental in creating a "new" Detroit out of the ashes of bankruptcy and dystopian urban blight. In the process,it's creating neighborhoods where art and community seamlessly mesh.

Let's step back and provide some context.

Have you heard that you can buy a house in Detroit for $500? That isn't an urban myth. Power House Productions founders Gina Richert and Mitch Cope bought ten homes way back in 2009 via an online auction. They paid $500 for each, took them off the city's energy grid, and refurbished them so people could move in. In the process, Richert and Cope made headlines across the U.S. and around the world.

Normally this is where the story ends. And this is often when the story takes a turn for the worst. Fortunately, the exact opposite occurred. The ensuing years saw residents moving into these renovated properties, while Power House stayed true to its community mission by integrating its redevelopment strategy into a living, breathing neighborhood made up of real people.

2014, for example, saw Powerhouse put on a Neighborhood Arts Festival, the Bangla School of Music Spring Concert, and other events.

Better yet, Power House Productions' efforts were contagious. Other nonprofit arts projects sprung up in the neighborhood, including the Write a House project, which we profiled a few months back.

Arts nonprofits everywhere should take note. Power House Productions' efforts represent creative placemaking on a grand and tangible scale. Too often these concepts, while promising in theory, fail to materialize in the real world. Due to — or perhaps because of — Detroit's unique situation, Power House and its partners have a kind of carte blanche to create a new community out of whole cloth.

It sounds cliche — and it probably isn't the first time we've said this — but we suspect Andy would approve.