Concert and community dialogue to tackle gentrification in Detroit neighborhoods

A New Center resident, and Detroiter for 40 years, Pamela Wise says she and her husband had experienced deterioration in their neighborhood through the years. But recently, the same landscape includes new buildings, businesses, and several renovated homes. At the same time, blight and vacant property are ongoing issues in many of the communities where she's talked with residents.

“I’ve seen where it’s changing in my neighborhood,” says the jazz pianist, composer, and cultural activist, “but some neighborhoods, you know, I don’t know when they’re going to experience any change.”


These experiences form the basis of Matrix X Detroit—The Gentrification Nation, a concert and community discussion on Saturday, Nov. 16 at The Shrine of the Black Madonna on Detroit's west side. Music, poetry, dance, and acting are vehicles for presenting real-life community resident stories at the event, which will debut original music by Wise as well as a three-part play written by Kresge Eminent Artist Bill Harris. A 45-minute dialogue between community residents, housing and economic coalitions, and city officials will follow the performance.


After many conversations with Detroit citizens, Wise and Harris have chosen to look at three major themes of gentrification: the claiming of historical and physical spaces in the city by new residents and developers, the displacement of longtime residents caused by rising housing and business costs, and the financial instability of residents who may be working multiple jobs without achieving housing security.


Wise wants to use art to talk candidly about these topics, and to help convey the feelings residents are having in the midst of what she calls “an ever-changing matrix.” By inviting representatives from the city, local realtors, and groups like the United Housing Coalition, who specialize in helping low-income residents stay in their homes, she also wants to connect residents to resources.


“People are drawn to art and music and culture. I thought this would be a good way to get people together and not make it not be so stiff, you know what I’m saying, or that you’re coming to attack somebody.”


The inspiration behind the project has partially come from the sounds of construction the musician hears out her window every morning. Trucks driving in, hammering, nailing, the busting of cement — “there’s a certain rhythm that goes along with that,” she says. Her songs “Move” and “Uneasy Spaces” denote feelings residents have shared over being “pushed out,” or the discomfort they may experience being constantly in transition. “There’s a pulse to that too,” she says.


The final song “A Heart of Gold,” written by Wise and vocalist Ping Spells, is a tribute to the resilience of people in Detroit, the longtime residents who have experienced a great deal of change and are still contributing to their communities.


Organizers hope to provide community residents, from young people to senior citizens, with a place to ask questions, connect to resources, and receive education on the best way to take advantage of gentrification in a positive way. By creating open avenues of conversation, Wise says she hopes residents and city officials will continue to talk about how this process affects them.


“I think that’s the role of an artist in a community,” she says about collaborating on this project. “Using your art to address community issues and bring people together.”


Shrine of the Black Madonna Church, 7625 Linwood
For tickets, go to the Eventbrite event listing. General admission is $10 at door; tickets for seniors and children younger than 12 are $5.

Read more articles by Sarah Williams.

Sarah Williams is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in metro Detroit. Her work focuses on individuals and nonprofit organizations investing in their communities through arts and culture, holistic healthcare, education and neighborhood revitalization. Follow her on Instagram @sarahwilliamstoryteller 
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