DETROIT — It’s a quiet Sunday in Brightmoor, a northwest Detroit neighborhood that’s about as good an example as any of the city’s fall from grace — and its unofficial rebirth via urban agriculture, grassroots activism, and community-based intervention. The coming weekend will bring the third annual Sidewalk Festival to this neighborhood long abandoned by city governance, and with it 60-plus performers and hundreds of attendees. But for now Brightmoor is quiet, save for dozens of community garden spaces with names like “Ms. Gwen’s Edible Playscape” and “Char’s Butterfly Trail” literally buzzing with insect life and all the natural industry of high summer.
Jillian Reese, community relations specialist for the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), is also here, overseeing the installation of five new pieces of the museum’s wildly successful Inside|Out program in those community gardens. She’s accompanied by Sarah Clark, from Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV), who helped coordinate the installation of another five Inside|Out pieces in community garden spaces in Southwest Detroit this morning.
The premise of Inside|Out is simple, as Reese puts it: “One of the goals is for us to bring down the walls of the museum and install these masterworks in places that are identified by the community as resources to them.” To accomplish this, the museum workshop recreates paintings and other artworks in durable, weather-resistant formats and frames, scaled for visibility and designed to be mounted in a range of site-specific locations, such as exterior building façades or freestanding on posts. In its first year, the program played things a little safe, using the DIA’s “greatest hits” — works by van Gogh, Monet, etc — and installing them around some of Detroit’s existing landmarks, such as the iconic former train station. But now, flourishing in its sixth season, Inside|Out is pushing farther afield, appearing in new city neighborhoods like the much-beleaguered Osborn — known for street violence more than culture (a reputation that Reese would like to see changed), redefining partnerships with institutions like Wayne State University and Midtown Inc., and traveling much further out, installing in places like Grosse Ile and the five towns along the Huron River Trail. So, too, have the selections from the collection gotten more diverse and esoteric, veering away from strictly tried-and-true masterpieces to introduce more art by and about people of color.