“Is Detroit The New Brooklyn?” And Other Q&As With the Creators of Playground Detroit

Have you ever heard the trope that Detroit is the new Brooklyn?  Have you heard stories of New York artists coming to Detroit for the next creative revolution? Are you an artist living in Detroit, wondering if you can make a splash in the Big Apple? These are conversations that are important to Detroit’s creative community.

Recently I was able to catch up with their Executive Director Paulina Petkoski (above left) and Deputy Director Samantha ‘Banks’ Schefman (above right) for a little Q & A session about their non-profit and website called Playground Detroit. The Playground Detroit site covers music, art, as well as positive news and events from both Detroit and New York with a focus on how the cultures of the two cities intermingle. The stated mission for the non-profit is “to enhance Detroit’s artistic reputation by connecting artists, entrepreneurs, and influencers to opportunities by offering highly visible exposure opportunities for artists in NYC and beyond.”

Paulina and Sam are from Detroit, and now live in New York. Here’s what they have to say about the artistic connection between the two places, the conversation about Detroit’s renaissance, and the future plans for PD.

HYD: So what is exactly is creative link between Detroit and New York?

Paulina: In general, New Yorkers are really curious about Detroit and its possibilities. I see a lot of connections between the creative scenes. There are so many conscious young people, musicians and visual artists are concentrated in both cities (New York and Detroit), especially in areas like Brooklyn and downtown Detroit.

Sam: Today the creative communities share many of the same ideals, reflective in their standards of living.  Many have moved to NYC to “make it” and others simply to try and perform or sell their work there. Within the PLAYGROUND DETROIT network alone we have come across many people who have moved from Detroit and vice versa. There are people we have met who are looking to move to Detroit because it has some of the same draws as New York.

HYD: In the pubs and parties of Detroit, you will hear people say things like “Detroit is the new Brooklyn,” referring to span of time in the 80′s – 90′s when Brooklyn was poorer and more industrial. Do you think this is true as well?

Paulina: It’s hard to directly compare Brooklyn to Detroit because it’s a borough, not an entire city among other differences, but there are parts of Detroit that are similar to Brooklyn in the 1990′s. The early artistic movement in Williamsburg known as Immersionism seems reminiscent of the DIY scene in Detroit. If you look at both of the waterfront areas you can also see similarities. After the shipping industry collapsed in New York, the water front was a post industrial wasteland, and now it has been redeveloped into a public use space with new parks, sports fields, and even outdoor concert venues. Similar things are happening along Detroit’s riverfront.

Sam: Detroit like Brooklyn in the past was industrial, at times dangerous, and free for artists to explore and experiment. Brooklyn eventually made a turn towards safety and cleanliness due to restructuring of the city in terms of things like public transit, streetlights and gentrification. Something we are starting to see in Detroit.

HYD: NYC is pretty much cool everywhere. Is Detroit music and art considered ‘cool’ in NYC? Any good examples of Detroiters whose work has really been embraced by the big apple?

Paulina: For a lot of New Yorkers, Detroit is synonymous with a certain grittiness and authenticity, (not to mention an amazing music history) which is definitely considered ‘cool.’ I get a little street cred when I tell people that’s my hometown.. Detroit is cool.

(The band) Jamaican Queens has been embraced by NYC, they play packed shows at places like 285 Kent and Shea Stadium often and they just played a couple CMJ showcases last week, now my NYC friends are fans. Artist extrodinaire John Dunivant just recently had a solo exhibition, The Expatriate Parade, at The Lodge Gallery in the Lower East Side which had a great turnout for the opening night. There is a lot of room for more Detroit art and music exposure in NYC, which is one of the things that PLAYGROUND DETROIT focuses on providing.

Sam: Art and music definitely are well represented out of Detroit, and people tend to take note in particular if it is part of an artist’s background. Detroit has some of the most influential people: Patti Smith, Marshall Mathers, Jack White, Sixto Rodriguez, Surfjan Stevens, Danny Brown, everyone during the Motown era, Mike Kelly, Tyree Guyton, Charles McGee.. really more than I can name whose experiences with the city is reflective in their work. Anna Sui and John Varvatos are the only well known successful fashion designers from Detroit that I know of.

HYD: What is the ultimate goal for Playground Detroit?

Paulina: I like to use the term ‘sister cities’ a lot because I feel like there is a lot that each city can offer one another due to their similar pasts and what they offer currently. Creative Detroiters need greater exposure and access to the music industry and the art market. New Yorkers need more space.. physically and creatively. It has become very difficult to sustain an ‘artist lifestyle’ while combating skyrocketing rent and the competitive economy.

HYD: What would you like people to know about Playground Detroit that doesn’t meet the eye?

Sam: Friends and associates of PLAYGROUND DETROIT have and will continue to be what keeps us moving forward. This collective, so to speak, is wonderfully close-knit and open-minded. We at PD are passionate about doing whatever we can to support everyone in our communities so they can continue to do what they love and are great at. Beyond everyone’s personal success we are all working hard to participate in the growth and favorable outcome that is Detroit’s future.

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