(GIF by Hrag Vartanian via instagram.com/mademan_chello264)

DETROIT — With the rise of Detroit as a sexy location for artistic spirits to be free from the confines of civilization, has come a backlash from everyday Detroiters, wondering what, exactly, is so blank about the city’s canvas.

From an outside perspective, it might be hard to understand how the denizens of such a radically depopulated city could possibly object to people coming here to pursue their vision. If only there were a convenient metaphor to be torn from the headlines — something that demonstrates a complete lack of awareness that there are people living in this sometimes eerily post-apocalyptic city, and that someone’s crazy dreams might have a negative impact on the surrounding community …

Hey, did you hear some jackass let a tiger loose in the Packard Plant yesterday?

When fine art photographer and conservationist David Yarrow booked the former Packard Automotive Plant — the country’s largest surviving industrial ruin and, alongside the abandoned Michigan Central Station, one of the most iconic locales exposing Detroit’s fall from industrial glory — he apparently failed to mention that he would be bringing some on-camera talent in the form of a bobcat, two wolves, and a tiger that, in the immortal words of Chris Rock, “went tiger.”

Here’s the thing about Detroit: when your plans go terribly awry, and you are faced with a problem of epic proportions, you can actually rely on Detroiters to suit up, show up, and bail you out. In this case, President of the Detroit Bus Company Andy Didorosi came on the scene to assist in corralling the creature, in a move that he characterizes as “the dumbest thing we’ve ever done” and chronicles in a video posted to his Facebook page.

And, in light of no one being, y’know, mauled by a tiger, this is all pretty funny. But in point of fact, this tiger went loose in an area where real people live, work, ride bikes, and let their children play. As artist K. Guillory of the Ashur Collective pointed out to Hyperallergic, this moment underscores the inherent disrespect paid to existing Detroiters, as new folks turn up and start screwing around without first gaining a clear understanding of the landscape. This city, and particularly the longstanding residents that have held it intact against unimaginable adversity have collectively been through hell and can handle just about anything. But for goodness sake, show a little respect. Tigers have already caused enough pain in Detroit this year.

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....

10 replies on “Another Oblivious Artist Comes to Detroit, Accidentally Lets Tiger Loose”

  1. “With the rise of Detroit as a sexy location for artistic spirits to be free from the confines of civilization”

    Allow me to correct this a bit. “With the rise of Detroit as the sexy location for artistic spirits to be free from the confines of high rents and wealthier, whiter populations that wouldn’t let them get away with things like bringing in dangerous animals without proper protocols”

  2. While Detroit’s experience has been tragic, alluded to in this piece, which is also politely funny as well and true, the picture painted is incomplete. Detroit is like New Orleans in that their respective disasters are the result of racist circumstances which have depopulated each city of many of its black inhabitants. But neither can be reconstructed the way they were, nor would most of those people relish going back to live in such poor, dangerous conditions, though they would if they could, and do in cases, because things are not necessarily better anywhere else and it’s home.

    Pervasive and persistent racism in the U.S. needs to be addressed on a fundamental level, so these things stop repeating themselves with such regularity, but the fact is that disaster also brings opportunity. Unfortunately, as is typical, it’s primarily white opportunity, but not all the people moving in are bad, and in fact most aren’t, and probably have more awareness of racial issues and their responsibility to live in ways which are constructive to solving this problem, or at least don’t exacerbate it.

    And both cities, New Orleans especially, which is exploding with new energy and entrepreneurial business opportunities, are seeing artistic renaissances to fill the vacuum. I don’t know that much about Detroit, but the conversion of abandoned lots to gardens there seems like a great idea. In a country which is being re-colonialized by rapacious corporate capitalism, many white people are hurting too, and they have no where else to go but where the cost of living is low.

    While releasing Tigers is a symptom of the excess, hubris and cultural void that is all too emblematic of what the experiment of European imperialism transferred to the American continent has become, things have gotten so bad that on the other hand there is some new energy afoot which realizes that we, all of us without exception, only have one another, and that this is probably the last chance we have to create a good life out of the ruins. It’s happening in many places, but Detroit and New Orleans, starting from scratch, could emerge as leaders.

    1. The problem here is that, as the country continues to descend into class and race war, into re-colonization, anything accomplished by anyone in New Orleans or Detroit will be appropriated and bleached out by the 0.1%. Talking about vacant lots, you could look at the example of ‘guerrilla gardening’ in New York City. At first, hippies and street people turned vacant lots into gardens. Now, thirty or forty or fifty years later, those gardens have been fenced off and many of them are under the close control of local authorities, privileged people with keys to the locks, who are generally of guess which classes and races. Partly because they exist, the neighborhoods surrounding the gardens gentrify, and the poor are moved on to God knows where, while the gentry and the landlords who live off them enjoy the fruits of their voluntary communal labor. Once again, art (including horticulture) decorates the Empire.

      Under the circumstances, the witless jerk with the tiger is only a minor symptom of the disease.

      1. I hear you A, and BTW, love your handle. Likewise. I was donning the rose colored glasses for a change, indulging in hope against all odds, but your scenario, barring major upheaval in the established order, is likely more accurate. The energy I referred to, however, is a real thing, however minor yet in the big picture. I know because I’m feeling’ it from real people, more than a few of them, and seeing it in action, in places I hang anyway, out of the mainstream.

        The shift we’ve seen in the last decade, while gradual, but mushrooming, and nothing new to those of us who have thought critically about such things for a while – that the planet as a habitable place, for all life and ultimately, in some sort of karmic justice, for the human species which has caused the problem, is pretty much fucked, and the fact that an inevitable product of Western “civilization”, European born and U.S. bred corporate capitalism is the prime culprit – has now dawned on the majority of people, if only as a gut feeling without much analysis.

        This is a huge, momentous change in awareness (Occupy, whatever its concrete results or lack thereof, changed the conversation in a major way and continues underground), even if most of us are confused and depressed in apathy instead of directed and determined to change it, and that reality check is making for some very interesting and positive developments in human relations, with concomitant ripples into the natural world.

        For the increasing number who know, reduced to the lesser but still significant number who actually care (a big if, I know), there’s no more hiding place in privilege or insecure, fearful, divisive piggery. We either all get along together, which means changing almost every human construct, or we’ll all go down in big dead pile. The latter is much more rationally likely given the facts that are there for all to see without the mountains of propaganda, but giving up hope is weak, terminal cynicism is an attitude only the privileged can afford, and miracles do happen.

        1. The ghosts of my Irish ancestors tell me it’s possible to fight without hope. However, I actually do function (as an activist) as if there is a little, thin thread of hope. I have to say I can’t say I see much for it to grow on. People have gone a long way toward ruining the world with their insatiable desire for more power and more stuff (the upcoming election will almost certainly be about nothing else). I see the fool with his tiger in Detroit as the cutting hipster edge of the predatory gentry. They’re there already, ready to appropriate, absorb, and use.

          1. All that hubris will bring them down eventually, more than anything we can do to fight it, though we can be catalysts. It seems to me that acting morally – i.e. for love, compassion, justice and respect for the natural world – has little to do with expected rewards. It’s a sustainable way of being. Keep the faith.

      2. While I see your big point I don’t know if there’s any truth to the fact that community gardens (or street art, which I’ve also heard) spurs gentrification. The forces at work are much, much bigger than that. You should also do some research on Community gardens – I know a lot of black and Puerto Rican community gardeners who would take issue with your characterization of their spaces.

        1. Well, I am hardly the only one to have that thought. The problem, of course, is not with gardens, street art, bicycles, etc., but with the overall system.

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