Art and Heritage in Detroit

Data Sources: Wikipedia:, I Love Detroit Michigan:, Detroit: The History and the Future of the Motor City:, Art Detroit Now: Organisational details were gratefully found on the institution's website.

Detroit art styles have changed through the years and some iconic pieces help highlight a lot of the major events and attitudes that have occurred in the city and that have been commissioned both by the government and/or businesses and by the people living in those communities. Before talking about art, it is first important to define what is considered as art. Here, art is defined as objects, images, or creations that are representative or symbolic of different people, events, and/or ideologies.

With the goal of wanting to see the shifting trends of art styles in Detroit, it is easier to separate the different styles of art into three major time periods: the 1860-1915 time period mainly consisting of monument-type art work including sculptures and fountains, the 1915-1960 time period consisting of anti- and pro-war sentiments and monuments, and the 1960-Present time period which consists of civil rights art pieces as well as community art work efforts for revitalizing the city and some post-civil rights era work. Not all of the art work listed under a certain section was necessarily created during that time, but some of that art was made honoring or referencing people or events of that time. In that sense, these time periods not only include art about the events and people but also art about the responses to these events and people.

1860-1915: Founding and Building

Starting from settlement, the art of this time period consists mainly of monument-style busts, sculptures, and fountains honoring the founders and key players in the development of the city. There are also several markers that commemorate different events such as the arrival of the French and different battles for ownership of the settlement. Sadly, there are many art pieces that have unknown dates of creation such as the Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac Statue and the George Washington Statue which both honor important men. Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac was the French founder of Detroit who was later moved to Louisiana as governor but had helped establish firm control of the major trade route for the French as well as allied the settlement with different First Nation Peoples tribes in the area.

The Ernie Harwell Statue outside of Comerica Park wasn’t dedicated until 2002, but Ernie Harwell himself spent most of his life (1918-2010) announcing baseball and giving fans endless evenings of entertainment. While Ernie Harwell wasn’t a founder or even a key player in the building of Detroit, he was a good role model and helped reinforce positive images of and morality for the city of Detroit and its people. Detroit has many commemorative statues and art pieces for different inspirational figures including sports broadcasters and athletes as well as public speakers and motivational leaders.

1915-1960: Wars and Post-wars

Obviously there was a lot of discontent from the Vietnam War and everywhere around the world, let alone the country, people were taking to the street to demonstrate against the unnecessary violence. In Detroit, this anti-violence sentiment manifested in areas like Cass Corridor which was created by a group of students who were tired of the lack of an art scene in Detroit. Cass Corridor was originally intended to just be a place where the more artistic and free-spirited youth could hang out and just do art but it quickly turned into more thanks to its active leader, John Sinclair.

As time went on, Cass Corridor and its independent newspaper became more and more radical and spoke out more and more against violence and war. While Cass Corridor started off as a place to do art, it eventually became more of a political platform for peace and less of a place for creative thinking. It did manage, however, to help stimulate a more artistic community of youths and brought back some vitality to a tense community dealing with civil rights issues.

1960-Present: Civil Rights and Revitalization

The civil rights movements have been highly documented through newspapers, TV shows, movies, documentaries, and even magazine covers and columns but some of the best and most inspirational coverage of the different civil rights movements comes from the massive amount of public art that was created during the time and directly after in remembrance of the struggles and deaths. Most of the art inspired by the civil rights movement has been in the form of murals on the walls of public buildings such as the Wall of Dignity which was meant to counteract against popular stigmatizations of African Americans. During the civil rights movement, many racially themed murals were painted onto walls by being commissioned or by illegal street art means. A lot of these racially themed murals included African-centric themes of going back to the ancestral land, murals containing portraits of famous or inspirational ethnic minority leaders, or murals depicting scenes of the different Latino immigrant experiences of working in the United States and suffering from racial stigmas.

A completely different type of art is coming out of Detroit now in the form of “power houses”. The idea behind this is to paint and decorate these old abandoned houses in interesting ways, get the houses to satisfy their energy usage through green methods and be self sustainable, and to encourage outside artists to move in. The people behind this idea believe that it will help make the neighborhood a better place if they can fix up these houses, get the neighborhood off the grid and supply their energy by green methods, and help stimulate the creative energy by bringing in more artists from around the world.


The Spirit of Detroit (2012, December 11).

Rattrak (2010, January 19). Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac - Detroit, Michigan.

Ernie Harwell (2013, June 26).

Meilgaard, M. (1987, January 14). ON THE FRONTIER: Bradley Jones and the spirit of the Cass Corridor.

Antoine Laumet de la Mothe, sieur de Cadillac (2013, June 30).,_sieur_de_Cadillac

Collins, L. (2004, November 3). Shakin’ Street: The Detroit Artists’ Workshop celebrates its 40th Anniversary.

Prigoff, J. (2000). Walls of Heritage, Walls of Pride: African American Murals.

Guerra, J. (2009, March 18). In Detroit, Artists Look for Renewal in Foreclosures.