A neighborly conversation:

A neighborly conversation:

Aaron Timlin on the left and Brandon Walley on the right

Aaron Timlin on the left and Brandon Walley on the right

A neighborly conversation:
Today’s topic, a Robocop statue in Detroit w/ Aaron Timlin and Brandon Walley

We here at thedetroiter.com would like to create a new segment that promotes discussion about great debates that come up in the art scene here in Detroit. We want to bring about dialogue in a less noisy, realistic and , most importantly, local way. Sometimes fiery debates dominate the discourse creating divisions, tangents, hyperbole, or even become the cover story of an out of town newspaper. Using the wonder of Google docs and presenting it for the first time ever in a blog format that connects to a large participatory audience, we present to you a collaborative interview format, where we can get what we want to say out, beat the news cycle out of a soundbite, and remind everyone that in this tiny city, we’re all just having a neighborly conversation.

This first question is for Brandon Walley who is the Director of Development of the Imagination Station and works with John Leonard (local artist, graphic design) and Jerry Paffendorf (LOVELAND, Imagination Station) and Mary Lorene Carter (LOVELAND, Imagination Station).

thedetroiter.com: What is it that you do and how big is this project compared to everything else that the Imagination Station does?

Brandon: I started working with I.S. last fall as a volunteer and helped with funding. Over the winter I’ve become more invested in the team’s mission to create a creative campus out of two abandoned/blighted homes, off of Roosevelt Park in Corktown and have taken on the role of Development Director.

We recently submitted a proposal and are being seriously considered for a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for a major community engagement initiative we are launching this year called Living In the Map: Corkstarter. I could go at length about the proposal, but at it’s heart, Corkstarter is a combination of online mapping, social networking and crowdfunding, coupled with on the ground community engagement meant to better the quality of life for every demographic that lives in Corktown. It is an adaptable model that can be successfully integrated into other neighborhoods in the city. The full proposal can be read here: Living In the Map: Corkstarter

We are also creating a digital lab for the community to help bridge the digital divide. The campus will also have a tech residency program where developers will work on programing that falls in-line with our community engagement mission.

So by representing Imagination Station in the process of building RoboCop in Detroit, I feel that a project like this has merit and can be a catalyst for generating interest in the work we are doing at I.S. as well as bring attention and support to other important community projects and organizations in Detroit. It may seem unfortunate that a sexy project like RoboCop is gaining such attention when Detroit needs so much, but it can be turned around to help with more important issues, and that is what Imagination Station will help facilitate.

thedetroiter.com: Aaron, both you and Brandon work out of Whitdel Arts and happened to run into each other to initially have this conversation. What would you say is the reason you got interested in this conversation? Is it worth having?

Aaron: It is important to maintain a healthy dynamic by having the difficult conversations, if for no other reason then to gain an appreciation and understanding for where the other side is coming from. In this particular case, there is a disagreement to place a statue, conceived and financed privately, in a public park, our commons. We seem to have this tendency to come to a place and feel it needs to be changed. It would be refreshing if people, when they come to this city, could live here for awhile without changing it. Explore it first. Meet the people that share the commons, that have a history, a home or memory of one, that know the paths most and least travelled on.

We face an ever increasing threat of privatization with Bing’s right sizing and Bobb’s school industrializing. While large corporations occupy space in Downtown without paying a cent in taxes, every year hundreds of poor families in the neighborhoods lose their homes to tax foreclosure. That is injustice. We should be furious about this and stand up against it. Well, now I am getting into the argument and not addressing the question at hand. Yes, it is worth having this conversation.

thedetroiter.com: This question can be answered by either of you, how strange is it that the conversation ‘blew up’ on facebook?

Aaron: Not strange at all. It is partly the way revolutions have been won, as evidenced in Egypt. Not sure I would call it a conversation, though. Some heated choppy fragments of a debate, accusations and name calling. What I find interesting is the residual discussion of us vs them. Us being Detroiters and them being non Detroiters or “transplants” as I have seen referenced.

Brandon: No, digital technology is continually a dominant medium for communication. It has it’s pros and cons. It’s great to get ideas out… promotion, education and whatnot, but social media often fails with the nuance of understanding. Facial expression, tone of voice, things like that are needed. OMG doesn’t cut it for real dialogue most of the time. Of coarse this is illustrated completely by this RoboDebate. I’ve spent A LOT of time over the past two weeks emailing exchanges with upset Detroiters about RoboCop. In some cases we have been able to meet in person, sit down over coffee and look at each other. A few of these times I walked in thinking it may be very confrontational, but every time at the end, we’ve come away with a clearer understanding of each other and a stronger community bond. This isn’t to say we may come to a complete agreement, but we do find the value of each others point of view.

thedetroiter.com: Aaron at some point you compared the anti-robocop statue group to the Egyptians successfully taking out Mubarak, how do you account for some of your ridiculous comparisons?

Aaron: Our revolution is against foreign corporate interests and their desire to impose their agenda on us. Robocop is such a case. There are hundreds of unheard voices in this discussion about a Robocop statue planned for the historic and public Roosevelt Park. My friend and fellow compatriot Jean Wilson put it well in a letter to the Imagination Station, “Think of the residents of Southwest and west Detroit just trying to go about their business who are people of color and therefore do not get a warm fuzzy feeling when they see the police.” She went on to write, “Why hurt anyone at all when it is completely unnecessary? And why bulldoze ahead with a plan that is oppressive to most and culturally ignorant at the least?” I feel the Robocop issue is bigger then an ugly statue installed against our will in a public park. It is indicative of the ugly and socially destructive process of gentrification and corporate influence in that process. This is another case of artists whoring themselves out for corporate interests/money. Word is that this began with a challenge by the person or corporation that owns the copyright to Robocop. If Imagination Station were to raise the first $25K, the copyright holder would match it. That is what happened. A great investment strategy for the copyright holder who will reap all the financial rewards as a result of this. Who is really winning in this situation? Not the people of Detroit. And not the artists who are essentially selling out. Additionally, the individuals behind the Imagination Station are coming from a place of privilege. They are dictating (dictator) what will be placed in historic public spaces used mostly by those of less privilege and with less of a voice. In this sense there is an abuse of privilege. When we use our privilege to do good for ourselves be it to promote our public image or organization, or even a cause, we fail our society, our humanity. That is if we are working towards a better society. In the work for a greater Detroit, we must do everything possible to use our privilege to advance those individuals who have less and who deserve more. We do the opposite when attempting to impose our “great” ideas on others without including them in the conception stages. Especially when it comes to the issue of protecting our commons.

Brandon: See now the major flaw in what you’re saying is that it doesn’t pertain to this project. There was never the intention to put RoboCop in a public park. Imagination Station is next to the park, it is privately owned and is the default location. But it is not our top choice. We are talking to city officials and private institutions about other locations which would make more sense in our urban landscape.
As far as unheard voices, we have been doing everything possible to be involved in a healthy conversation. I think this is one of the most important aspects to this project and necessary for Detroit to move ahead in a positive direction.

thedetroiter.com: Brandon, at any point were you worried about buzz or mainstream media molding the conversation?

Brandon: Any press is good press right? I’m being facetious, but there’s some truth to it. Detroit needs a lot, but it is also an amazing dynamic place. I love living, working and playing here and I want people to know it. In a BBC interview the host joked that “why RoboCop when Detroit is such a dump.” He was being sarcastic, but I called him on it and by the end of the interview he conceded that his views are based on media perception and if my passion for Detroit is genuine (which it is and I’m far from alone) then he needs to investigate and reassess his thinking. As long as those of us involved are being transparent and true to our mission the media coverage should, and has for the most part, reflect that. In this case, I need the media to get the message out and help to do positive things in Detroit.

Aaron: Detroit does not need a lot of press. I just want to respond to Brandon’s statement above. What do we really get out of it? So far the press is not well representative of Detroit and the people here. I’ve not seen anything that has benefited from the press about Detroit. Maybe an individuals reputation. Corporate interests benefit by slanting the stories one way to attract a certain demographic to the city that will accelerate the gentrification process. Press? We don’t need it. We will continue to do what we do. Living, working and playing here is for us to do regardless if someone wants to write about it and share that with the world. If the purpose the statue serves is to gain attention for Detroit from the outside, well, first it is a gimmick and second, when the hell did we need attention from the outside. Perhaps outsiders feel a need to have that attention, because they are not truly living here. Back to my point about living in Detroit without changing it. I wish people would try that first.

thedetroiter.com: Aaron you talked a little bit about how you know first hand what it’s like to not be able to talk about something that’s blowing up in the media, like the raid on the CAID, what has your experience been?

Aaron Timlin: Well, sometimes we choose not to talk because it would do more harm than good and sometimes we are ordered not to talk. I don’t believe I was ever ordered not to discuss the raid. I did talk to the press initially. However, we wanted to have an agreement put in place that would prevent the police from violating our rights and raiding our nonprofit again. We spent two years negotiating such an agreement and I am happy to say we got what we wanted. If I had have continued to speak to the press, it would have agitated the matter and made the negotiations more difficult.

thedetroiter.com: Brandon, there has been metaphors drawn between the project of Robocop and it symbolizing people coming together for a greater cause, and there are people that criticize it and say that it’s quite a grand comparison about what the statue of Robocop will do for the city, how do you respond to that? And what do you hope Robocop will be a catalyst for?

Brandon: I don’t have notions that a RoboCop statue will save the city or be some monumental positive message. But it is a positive catalyst and that was always my hope. Spin-off fundraising is going on and we are working to come up with some cool funding that will help kids in DPS that relates to our interest in digital arts and also ties in well with RoboCop. Public events like a double feature of Robo 1 and 2 are being planned for Burton Theatre and proceeds will go to the community. So, what I really dig is that this conversation has provoked people to support organizations that are doing really amazing work in our city. This is funding that would not have existed before.

thedetroiter.com: Aaron, many people say that if they wanted to do their own project, they should raise the funds themselves and do it, do you share that sentiment? Lastly, do you have anything to say to a structure of how your criticisms and the imagination station’s aims could be combined? For example, it was suggested that perhaps we should attempt to convince the people who were involved in creating Robocop to donate something and attach themselves to a local cause that they fundraise for.

Aaron: Sure. Why not? However, the funds for this project we are discussing were not raised by individuals alone. I don’t believe the project could even happen without one major donors investment (I dare not call it a donation) and approval since they own the copyright. Bowing to foreign corporate interests is something I will fight against, not align myself with. I really don’t believe this is the aim of the Imagination Station. Maybe the publicity is.

thedetroiter.com: And from this point, we’d like to open up the discussion to whoever would like to chime in! Which still includes Aaron and Brandon if you would like to field them questions. Do you think there is a compromise somewhere between integration (as opposed to gentrification) and bringing in the spectacle that is Robocop or something similar?