Artist Katherine Craig in front of her work “The Illuminated Mural” (photo by Trilogybeats, all images courtesy the artist)
DETROIT — Michigan kicked off 2016 with all kinds of breaking litigation news. Leading the pack, before the horrific revelations of Flint’s water crisis and the Detroit Public School shutdown, artist Katherine Craig filed suit in US District Court in Detroit against Princeton Enterprises, the owner of a building at 2937 East Grand Boulevard that hosts her 2009 public artwork “The Illuminated Mural.” The building went up for auction last summer and was purchased by Princeton Enterprises with the intention of redeveloping it as multifamily or loft housing — a project that would potentially threaten or outright destroy Craig’s artwork. Craig is seeking an injunction against actions by the developer that would compromise or destroy her iconic mural, which is comprised of 100-plus gallons of paint and is a signature piece in her oeuvre.
Her suit epitomizes one of the fundamental tensions of the use of art as a spearhead for gentrification: developers are more than happy to accommodate artists when their interventions bring new interest and value to properties or neighborhoods — and Craig’s mural has inarguably become one of Detroit’s best-loved works of public art — but once these holdings have sufficiently appreciated, little consideration is paid to the sweat, material, and professional equity that went into the works, from both the artists and surrounding communities. In a conversation with Hyperallergic, Amy Keller, part of Craig’s legal team at Wexler Wallace LLP, pointed out that this is not strictly an issue in Detroit: one of Chicago’s most cherished public murals, William Walker’s “All of Mankind,” was unceremoniously whitewashed off the face of the Strangers Home Missionary Baptist Church in 2012 to pave the way for a development deal.
“I grew up just outside of Detroit,” said Keller. “Witnessing its redevelopment over the past few years has been incredibly exciting. Just like any city, responsible and mindful development is paramount to ensuring good community relations. This is especially important when redeveloping a neighborhood, as developers should respect the rights of current residents, businesses, and artists who have shaped the fabric of those communities.”
Craig took time out for an interview with Hyperallergic over email, discussing some of the ins and outs of her situation.