The Work of Art in a Age of High Unemployment

As the MC5 sang, the Motor City is burning. In 1965, the MC5's future manager, John Sinclair edited Work #1. Work is hard to come by in Detroit now. Decaying urban infrastructure, foreclosed property, urban fright and flight, bankruptcy, violence. Detroit is a place to steer clear of. . . unless you are an artist. Today the Motor City is running on fumes, yet the time is ripe for a new conflagration. And maybe not the one you would expect. More Watts Towers than Watts Riots.

The Haight, the Lower East Side, Cleveland, and Detroit of the 1960s prove that when the shit goes down, mimeo springs up. And miraculously in a matter of time so do property values, storefronts, and sold signs. John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock Pennsylvania, is banking on the fact that a strong art community creates opportunity, stability and growth. Others are following suit.

While there may be no employment opportunities in Detroit, there is plenty of space at cheap prices. I read somewhere that foreclosed properties are selling at around $6000. There is talk of $100, and even $1 property. Out of the urban decay grows Art. See Of course, once the artists rebuild the community, the rents and prices go up, the commerical galleries come in, and the scene dies, and the cycle begins anew. The article above suggests this cycle in action.

The key to artistic growth is cheaply cultivating your own space and if possible protecting it from exploitation by established developers and disseminators of intellectual property. Sinclair's Work was just such a vibrant space, but as the history of the MC5 proves the desire to attach that space to the larger economy, and the larger economy's equally powerful desire to colonize that space, are often too strong to resist. Work ran for only five issues; maybe all you can hope for is to work frantically in the moment and then when the moment turns into a sign of the times, move on.



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