91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Re-imagining Flint, one art installation at a time

Stephen Zacks (right) pitches his "Flint Public Art Project" to the city's mayor, Dayne Walling.
Jennifer Guerra
Michigan Radio
Stephen Zacks (right) pitches his "Flint Public Art Project" to the city's mayor, Dayne Walling.

Detroit’s path to revival has been in the news a lot lately. Drive an hour northwest to Flint and you’ll find a city whose struggles are similar if not worse than Detroit's. But a coalition of artists, city officials and residents is trying to re-write Flint's story through art.


Flint's problems are pretty well documented: murders, arson, blight, poverty, massive police layoffs, and the dubious honor of being named one of the most violent cities in the country.

Plus there's Michael Moore's 1989 movie Roger & Me, which basically memorialized Flint's decline on the big screen. It's a movie Stephen Zacks would rather forget.

"People know Michael Moore, they know Roger & Me, so you respond to that question for your whole life. You keep answering the question: What's wrong with Flint?"

To try to remedy that impression, Zacks - a Flint native who now lives in New York - has moved back to his hometown temporarily to start a new, city-wide undertaking he's calling the Flint Public Art Project. "It's not a project to try and save Flint," Zacks explains, "it's a project to collaborate with people who live in Flint.

The goal is to create a bunch of temporary art installations around the city - in abandoned buildings, along the river, in someone’s front yard. Zacks believes if they can create a kind of critical mass of small projects, it might get people in Flint to start seeing their city differently.

Zacks has met with Flint Mayor Dayne Walling to talk about potential sites for the installations. Walling says he's open to new ideas like the Flint Public Art Project because "obviously the old approaches aren't working" in the city anymore:

"It would be wonderful if this project creates such strong new memories and new attachments, that our community refers to these now vacant sites as the place where that really cool installation was put in, as opposed to that's the place where people used to go to work but then the factory closed and we had all these hard times."

Zacks plans to fund the project through grants and an online fundraising campaign.

Cade Surface, a U of M-Flint student who's helping Zacks with the project, acknowledges there are some Flint residents who are skeptical about the project, calling it "Auto World 2.0," a reference to Flint's now defunct indoor theme park. But Surface says that's no "reason to stop trying."

The project's first installation will go live Friday, July 7 at the Genesee Towers. The Flint Journal reports the installation will take place during of the city's popular ArtWalk:

Inside Genesee Towers will be performers such as The Fischer Bodies, the Hula Hoops, JonBenet and the Clio Girls. A video and photography projection will also be show by local artists Eric Hinds, Tara Moreno and New York-based multimedia artist Chris Jordan. Lighting installations, as well as a laser and light installation will be held, illuminating the riverfront. This event is free and open to the public.

Jennifer is a reporter for Michigan Radio's State of Opportunity project, which looks at kids from low-income families and what it takes to get them ahead. She previously covered arts and culture for the station, and was one of the lead reporters on the award-winning education series Rebuilding Detroit Schools. Prior to working at Michigan Radio, Jennifer lived in New York where she was a producer at WFUV, an NPR station in the Bronx.
Related Content