DETROIT — Mainstream politicos might be going about things dead wrong. On February 28, artist, curator, and community organizer Ingrid LaFleur made the exciting announcement that she would throw her (no doubt stylish) hat in the ring of the upcoming Detroit mayoral race. It came in the midst of a dance party called Detroit is the Future at the headquarters of creative-activist collective O.N.E. Mile that featured DJs, an enthusiastic crowd, and the collective’s mother ship: an Afrofuturist space capsule created by Detroit architecture and design firm Akoaki. Assuming LaFleur amasses the 500 signatures necessary to enter the primary — and from the looks of the crowd, she is comfortably on her way — the four other candidates in the competitive race, including incumbent Mayor Mike Duggan, may wish to take notes on how to do politics real Detroit style.
“The truth is, my experiences as a creative and as a Detroiter have led me to this decision,” said LaFleur during a brief speech announcing her run, which took place between DJ sets. “In my daily life, I have seen the best of Detroit: our innovation, our creativity, our ability to bring beauty and humanity to every corner of our city. Around the world, Detroit is known as a global arts destination and as a leader in social justice and business. At the same time, we have gone in and out of bankruptcy, and now our public schools are under threat of further closures. These contradictions are not new, but we are at a juncture now [where] we as Detroiters must come together and ensure that our city is not simply known as an arts leader, but a leader in innovation, education, and creativity in every field.”
LaFleur is a native Detroiter who took a sojourn from life in Michigan to travel and work in the wider contemporary art world for over a decade, before returning in 2010 — as seems to be a growing trend — to apply what she’d learned to her hometown.
“I am a concerned citizen who was not only born and raised in Detroit, but also for the past seven years lived in the city,” LaFleur told Hyperallergic in a follow-up interview. “I have experienced all of the beauty and challenges in Detroit on an intimate level. I know of many small business owners and creatives that are credited with the rebirth of the city, which means I have an in-depth understanding of our needs. As a curator, I observe, research, investigate, and then bring together the elements to make a cohesive statement and/or action. As an artist I tend focus on out-of-the-box ways to resolve issues that I face. I am using all of those skills to create a healthy, sustainable city.”
During her speech, LaFleur stated a desire “that every neighborhood feels as empowered and secure as downtown and midtown,” obliquely touching on a point of local contention: the way the current administration has concentrated a lot of development dollars in the most central and whitest corridors of the city, leaving many poorer black neighborhoods to languish. Mike Duggan took office in 2013, becoming the first white mayor of Detroit since the 1970s. His campaign was run in part on down-to-earth house parties to connect with community members, but the development he’s undertaken during his term has not mirrored those outreach efforts.
“Returning home to Detroit and witnessing our challenges firsthand definitely influenced me,” LaFleur told Hyperallergic, “but in particular teaching youth. I’ve spent three years teaching youth all over the city of Detroit. This is how I was able to learn the full scope of our issues. 67% of our youth live in poverty. Our children, who are our future, are living without water, are going hungry, and their schools are closing in their neighborhoods. If that isn’t a motivating factor, I don’t know what is.”
LaFleur is known, among other things, for AFROTOPIA, a creative research project that combines Afrofuturist philosophy and aesthetics with social-impact movements, like a science-fiction book club. She also co-facilitates the Detroit Culture Council, which organizes strategies for artists to be better represented within city government.
“I support Ingrid because she is the only candidate who will work with grassroots water, education, and transportation justice activists — people who live in this city and have worked tirelessly to try to ensure equity for all of Detroit’s residents,” said poet and activist Casey Rocheteau, who moved to Hamtramck in 2014 as the inaugural recipient of the Write A House residency. “She’s someone who’s not just paying lip service to making our neighborhoods better, and who has the ingenuity to find solutions in ways career politicians won’t.”
One thing is for sure: LaFleur knows how to throw a monster kickoff party. And as Detroit embarks upon what will likely be a lively mayoral contest, many grassroots organizers and creative social connectors seem prepared to line up behind her. With opportunities to co-create and volunteer for her campaign, there are ample ways to back this visionary, who just might be able to realize a future Detroit that is rising from, rather than replacing, the original.