The Maker Culture is Reinventing Detroit

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Photo by Gina Clifford

To be sure, Detroit faces uphill challenges as it fights poverty, unemployment, and a shrinking population after the massive downsizing of the auto industry. In the media, we all see Detroit’s vast vacant factories, poor schools, and despondent people. Sadly, these stories become Detroit’s story. However, they are just some of Detroit’s stories. They do not and cannot define Detroit.

The Detroit I experienced is full of unbelievable potential. Its people are not defeated–just the opposite. Detroiters are on fire. They are fierce, quirky, diverse, creative, authentic, gritty, passionate, and proud. They love their city. In fact, they are reinventing it right now. Detroit is the epitome of toughness, standing tall in the face of adversity and emerging stronger than ever.

Downtown Detroit is beautiful. There is something about the color of the city at sunset that is unlike anyplace else. Just before the sun sinks below the horizon, the city glows as if each soul in the city lends itself to the effort. The art at the People Mover stops remind you that Detroit is, or once was, Motor City. The giant steel Joe Louis fist statue on Jefferson Ave. could not be more symbolic of Detroit. Quirky Greek Town sits as a tiny Vegas amid brownstones. Glowing yet tough like hot iron, Detroit feels like the heart of the Maker movement.

Downtown Detroit at sunset photo by Gina Clifford

Lish Dorset is an artist and writer, a self-described hybrid of Debbie Harry, Liz Lemon, and Martha Stewart, her youthful vibrancy and iconic glasses betray Detroit’s perceived gloom. She makes beautiful things by hand. At a time when President Obama is seeking to engage Americans to be makers of things instead of consumers of things, Lish is quietly being that symbol. She is fun, optimistic, and passionate about Detroit. Lish is one of the makers helping to reinvent Detroit. In addition to her maker skills, she helps run Handmade Detroit and writes for Craft Magazine.

Christopher Gorski loves cars. He also loves to draw. Chris bought an old step van, named it Leo, painted it, and filled it with his original designed and hand-drawn t-shirts. He sells his shirts under his own brand, Detroit GT as he drives around the city in Leo. Chris loves Detroit. He loves cars. He is Detroit. An entrepreneurial spirit unencumbered by doubt, Chris is part of the unique fabric of Detroit that makes Detroit, Detroit.

Barry Randolph is the pastor of Church of the Messiah on Grand Blvd. If you met Barry on the street, you might not guess that he is a pastor. He is tough-minded, outspoken, immediately likeable, and cool. You might mistake Barry for an entertainer or a motivational speaker. Without a doubt, though, there is not anyone in Detroit with more compassion for people. The Church of the Messiah welcomes everyone, regardless of economic, racial, or social background. Barry is featured in the movie Lemonade Detroit, a movie about the amazing entrepreneurial and creative spirit of Detroit’s people in the face of stunning adversity. Barry develops community programs, runs several community gardens, and houses a cool hackerspace in his church’s basement. View Make’s interview with Barry.

Barry Randolph
Barry Randolph with Erik Proulx Photo by Gina Clifford

Detroit gets to you. You go there and you change. Erik Proulx knows this. He visited Detroit and ended up making a movie about the amazing Makers who are reinventing their city. He called it Lemonade Detroit because he witnessed Detroit’s Maker culture first-hand. The people are not downtrodden. Hope is not lost. Detroit is alive and people are reinventing themselves and their city. They’re makers at heart who are making lemonade out of their lemons. The movie itself, a 17-minute short film, is an entrepreneurial effort. Most of the movie was made by film pros that volunteered their time on the movie. Now, Erik is working to raise funds to pay people (so they can eat) to make Lemonade Detroit into a full-length film. By selling each frame of the 17-minute film for $1 each, he credits donors as ‘producers’ on IMDB. Erik, a Maker himself, appreciates the importance of this movement. Watch the film and you’ll get it, too.

Watch the Lemonade: Detroit 17-minute short from Erik Proulx on Vimeo.

Clint Eastwood’s Chrysler commercial about America’s half time speaks directly to Detroit. It is not the end–it is a new beginning, and Detroit’s maker culture is in the driver’s seat. Detroit is an iconic American city re-inventing itself after the crash of the auto industry. Its people are optimistic, passionate, creative, and proud. If you visit, be sure to hang out at Motor City Wine on Woodward Ave.and say hi to Lish if she’s there. Get a shirt from Chris Gorksi, and visit Barry Randolph at the Church of the Messiah. Before you leave, watch Lemonade Detroit, and then donate a few bucks to the movie-your name in the credits is a great way to say ‘I’m part of the Maker culture’.

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