Psst, Vulture Editors: Detroit Also Has Black Artists (Lots of Them)

January 03, 2015, 5:20 PM by  Alan Stamm

From: Detroit
Topic: Getting it wrong

Even if editors at a New York-based culture news site miss this memo, they can catch its gist from nine reader criticisms so far under a Friday afternoon article headlined "9 Artists on Why They Live in Detroit." 

The New York site claims to offer "a smart, comprehensive take on the world of culture."

Sounds straightforward and positive, right?

That's what it could have been, except for a huge and bizarre blind spot: Editor at-large Carl Swanson didn't find any nonwhite artist to profile. Not one. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Shutout.

Yes, right here in Detroit.

"It's almost like they tried to ignore black artists to concentrate on hipsters," tweets John Brown II of Oak Park.

The glaring gap is "despicable and shameful," a reader identified as Brae posts at the site. "It underscores the notion that cities are only cool when a bunch of white artists say they are."

A Detroit writer and activist tweets: 

Detroit journalist Aaron Foley typically would be joining, perhaps leading, a pile-on if outrage fatigue hadn't kicked in.     

Vulture has a national scope and is produced in Lower Manhattan by New York magazine, which unhumbly calls the site "a beacon for passionate fans who want a smart, comprehensive take on the world of culture." It's described as covering "culture both high and low, because you never know where the next truly brilliant moment will come from."

Um, careful where you set that bar, Team Vulture. Swanson's drive-by coverage seems far from smart, comprehensive or brilliant.  

The writer, an 11-year veteran of New York magazine, explains that he "recently spent a couple of days [in Detroit], witnessing the intense little pockets of recognizable Brooklyn-ish-ness that have sprung up, where the just-so work of creating another twee urban utopia is being done."

These are also places where the racial demographics of the city are noticeably reversed. (In the 2010 census, Detroit was made up of 83 percent black people.)

The new shops and restaurants often feel alienating to many who didn’t flee for the suburbs when things got rough, and who think of Detroit as theirs. That struggle continues, but these new urban migrants are good for the city’s tax base.

I also got to meet some of the artists who live and work here: Elysia Borowy-Reeder, the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, wrote up my itinerary, and introduced me to people. 

Museum director Elysia Borowy-Reeder "wrote up my itinerary, and introduced me to people," the East Coast writer says.

Borowy-Reeder, MOCAD's director since April 2013, is from East Lansing and has a MSU master's degree in art education and art history. 

By identifying his collaborator, Swanson provides a dual target for critics:

  • "The director of the [museum], which has nonwhite staffers (many of them artists), couldn't think of one artist of color for the author to meet?" -- Brae, commenting under the article.
  • "It's almost like the director of @MOCAD pointed @vulture to all of her friends (and husband)." -- Amanda Levittt at Twitter 

The Midtown museum leader's spouse is painter Scott Reader, a Michigan native who relocated with her two years ago from Raleigh, N.C.

As for a certain larger, older museum five blocks north on Woodward, here's what Swanson writes:

The Detroit Institute of Arts is a world-class museum, but like so much of what is so impressive there, it’s a relic of an imperial industrial capital that no longer exists.

So there we have it: "a smart, comprehensive take on the world of culture" in Detroit, written for non-Detroiters by an outsider after "a couple of days" with a few creative types. What could possibly be flawed?  

Read more:  Vulture

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