What happens when street art, breakdancing and a car show all happen on the same grounds? A launching pad for what could become the next great Detroit automotive experience.
Trying to keep up with the art scene in this city is an exercise in patience. There are those who get the lion's share of attention (hello, RoboCop statue) and then there are those you see around events from time to time trying to make their way through.
The Grand River Creative Corridor, a relatively tiny strip of Grand River Avenue that calls to mind Little Five Points in Atlanta, is where you can find up-and-comers and veterans alike mingling and developing. Passers-by see graffiti; look closer, especially peering around corners and behind buildings, and you'll see modern interpretations of what Detroit's capable of.
This weekend on the corner of Grand River and Calumet, not too far from historic Woodbridge, I stopped by DIM Battles, an exhibit for artists and gearheads to meet on common ground.
The setup was this: Artists were given canvas and spray paint to re-imagine car logos like Ford's Blue Oval or the Mopar symbol. Enthusiasts who brought their show cars to the event were judged by panel of designers in the field. All the while, there are breakdancers in between the engine roars and paint fumes.
It's a decidedly unpolished event, and that's the point. No corporates involved (although ZipCar was on hand to sign up new recruits), no onlookers from around the neighborhood turned away. No finger foods; just a food truck selling mac and cheese on one side and two older women selling chips and hamburgers on the other.
"These are cars built by regular people," Dino "D.J." Valdez, a designer with Heavenly Dogs, tells me. "These are the people who are in it because they love it."
There's a modded Kia Optima with South Korean badging, a lime green BMW M3 with black matte accents next to a Toyota Cressida with mismatched wheels. Camilo Pardo, the former Ford GT designer who now runs his own shop, pulls up in his own creation next to a black '63 Lincoln Continental.
Pardo was a notable get for this event as organizers try to bridge a gap between Detroit's underground artist scene and the mainstream auto industry. This is the third year for DIM Battles, which has a low-key event for the summer. In the winter during the North American International Auto Show, the goal is to get designers from automakers to loosen up for the kind of sketch battles (maybe not so much the breakdancing, but who knows?) seen here at this weekend's events.
A few companies, including Lincoln, Audi, Volkswagen and Fiat have shown early interest. "All the best designers from those companies, they all come together and battle it out on sketches," Brook Middlecott Banham, whose namesake outfit Middlecott Design hosted the event, says. "(It's) an Olympics of sketching, a World Series."
To boot, the event will be held far away from Cobo Hall and right here in the Grand River Creative Corridor at Kunsthalle Museum, which opened three years ago in a former bank.
Mainstream car companies may be involved, but Banham wants to keep it as underground as possible — nothing "jacked up on sponsorship tables," he says.
If you've been to Detroit's auto show, particularly on press days, you know how stiff it can be. The guys in suits are beyond rehearsed, the displays are blindingly white, the food is bland and unsatisfying. The freestyles and grunge here is a definite contrast.
"I'm tired of the Eames, the Bauhus, all this mainstream stuff? I mean, come on — let's do some underground stuff. It can't get much more underground than this stuff."
For more information on DIM Battles, click here.
Photo credit: Alex Conley for Jalopnik.