Last week I had the pleasure of sitting down with two of the people behind the fantastic Detroit-born project, The Imagination Station. Jerry and Mary call themselves futurist. I was at first disappointed when they were not outfitted in space gear or bring their dog Astro. The idea of having a job title of futurist seemed so Jetson-like to me I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the title became clear as we discussed the future face of Detroit and how they hope to revive the communities through their work with Loveland and The Imagination Station. They see the trends, the road this city is on, and they see ways to change that. Detroit is not a blank canvas to them, as many people view it (including myself until I talked with them), but a city with the resources of a dedicated community of residents that are driven by the blithe to revive the city.
The Imagination Station’s first project is turning two blithe-ridden houses in Corktown (2236 and 2230 14th st) into a community haven for art, learning, and technology. They bought two houses across the street from the haunting monument of what remains of Michigan Central Station. One house was destroyed in a fire and need to be cleared out and will be converted into a public art space, the other will be rehabbed into a community center of sorts. Right now The Imagination Station is raising money for phase 1 of the project – bringing down house number 1 and weatherize house number 2 before the Michigan winter comes roaring through. They are trying to raise $10,000 for this phase.
To me, the most unique part of this project is the open approach they are taking to the process. Where most new spaces have a grand unveiling of the finished product, The Imagination Station is turning the process itself into an integral part of the project. There will be no “TaDa!” moment, but a continuous stream of updates and exciting progress via their blog and videos (with fantastic production by Stephen McGee). Also, there will be art installations throughout the process. An artist, Marianne, has already painted the inside and out of the house that will be destroyed. There will also be another artist that will be working on turning the demolition of the house into a continuous art installation – art being created as art is being destroyed. This is a game-changing perspective for community projects across the city (and, if you’re really optimistic, the world).
The Imagination Station also hopes that their documentation and narration of the progress will become a blueprint for other groups and organizations to take on similar projects. “One of our over-riding goals in this process is to be exceedingly transparent about our costs, lessons learned and revenue produced so that our successes can be replicated and our failures (since we are members of the reality-based community) can be avoided.” They want to go by the books, getting the proper clearance and permits in order to build this center. They want people to be aware of the full process, the ups and downs, the confusing red tape, the fundraising, the challenges and successes. Open source community building!
Finally, they want their donors to feel as close to the project as possible by, to the best of their ability, linking the donation money to exactly what the money went towards. What a concept!
I hope more organizations take this open-door policy to their process, helping others learn and making it more accessible for others to take action as well.