How Did This Begin?
I have never been an artist (or a photographer for that matter), but I have always appreciated art and the way artists often give of themselves with little in return. I had been kicking around a few projects to support local artists in Detroit for a while, and at the same time, going for bike rides more and more throughout the city to do a little exploring. Then, in 2016, my life took a couple of turns including a divorce and turning the wonderful age of 50. So I decided to merge the two things I love and try to complete a project that I could do with less support than I would need for some of my other, broader ideas.
When Did This Begin?
While I had been riding in the city for years, the official ELM project began on February 20, 2017, and all pictures and comments on this site are from that point forward.
What is the Goal?
To ride every linear mile of the city while taking photos and geo-tagging each piece of public art and/or graffiti. I hope by doing this, a few things will happen:
Locals: I hope that those of us who live here will be reminded of how lucky we are and what beauty is around us, even when some of it might look like decay on the surface.
Visitors: I hope people visiting here or moving move here will be slightly more educated on how much more Detroit has going for it, including a thriving art scene with so much of it being free to the public.
Artists: I hope this will serve as some unique homage to all the artists who made this project happen. I hope this helps give them some individual exposure, but more so helps them gain respect for what impact they have on the city as a collective. That goes for the established artist who gets paid good money to create a large mural downtown to the kid who creates murals in abandoned buildings because it’s a safe outlet for him. It also includes the local artist who just scrapes by selling art at some of the local galleries to the single, struggling mother of three who still manages to create a piece of art in front of their home. They all make this city unique and this is my way of thanking them.
Locals/Visitors: In going full circle, if you too appreciate what these artists are doing, then please do what you can to support them. Promote their work, support their efforts, donate materials and most importantly BUY THEIR ART! I promise you you will remember that piece and that artists way more than anything mass produced from one of the big box stores.
How Many Miles is It?
Good question and one whose answer I could not find anywhere, but guessing I will need to ride between 3,000 to 5,000 miles, especially with all the backtracking I end up needing to do.
What is a Road?
At 138 square miles, Detroit has 1000s of miles of roads and 100s of miles of alleys, so I am focusing only on actual, named roads and only go down alleys when I feel there might be artwork hidden somewhere on them. The majority of Detroit’s alleys are sadly overgrown, but it has been nice to see some communities trying to clear them out and make them usable again.
What is Art?
This has been a tough one for me, because as they say “art is in the eye of the beholder” and I am definitely not an artist or qualify as a critic, but here are some general rules I have tried to follow:
- Size does not matter, but obviously, I’m sure I ride by small stuff all the time.
- Has to be a one-of-a-kind as far as I know or can tell.
- Has to be accessible to me without putting me in danger.
- No basic lettering/writing, tagging or gang symbols.
- Has to be public art, although you undoubtedly will see things I might have found in some abandoned space. (Note: If I took a pic of something on your property and want it removed from this site, I will remove it promptly, just let me know).
- No business advertisement, unless I just found it more interesting in some way.
- Try not to judge the quality of it or the age of the person who might have made it (i.e., children’s work).
Why Include the Other Stuff?
I really don’t want to be someone exploiting the city’s decay, but some of it is really just beautiful and some buildings and homes simply amaze me in how they are still standing even after a fire or being ravaged by scavengers. I’m sure most of these structures, vehicles, boats, etc. will be taken away or torn down in the years to come, so I just wanted to keep a few in my personal memories.
Is it Safe?
I have had more than one friend say I am nuts for doing this and/or tell me not to go into certain parts of the city. They are all well-meaning friends and likely right to a certain degree, but while the guns and violence are real, the vast majority of people in the City of Detroit are good, hard-working people looking out for their neighbors…and for 50-year-old men cruising by on their bikes. So I ride mostly in the morning, I keep my senses on high, say hello to most and give a lot of respect to anyone I see. To me, that is mostly what life is about, just respecting one another.
How About Some Facts & Figures (thru 01/12/19)?
- Miles to Date: 3,387 (guessing 4,500 total)
- Hours Ridden: 365 (doesn’t count time driving, photo editing, blogging, etc.)
- Number of Rides: 128 (52 miles being the longest)
- Flat Tires: 12 (potholes & glass take their toll)
- Nails Stepped On: 10 (thank god for the tetanus shot)
- Chased by Dogs: 10 (5 scary, 5 not so much)
- Buying Drug Offers: 9 (verbal offers, not just eye contact)
- Hooker Sightings: 5 (who needs entertainment at 8am?)
- Stopped By The Cops: 0 (think I look innocent enough)
- Broken Bottles On The Ground: 1 Million Plus (just never-ending)
- Bike Wipe-outs/Accidents: 4 (one tar, one ice, one out of control, and one collection of rocks)
- Times I Really Felt Unsafe: 1