City Beat (August 9, 2006)
By Amy Lange | photography by Michael Shore
With millions of visitors each year, Lowell Boileau’s Detroit YES! Web site is growing in popularity and gaining momentum; between the bickering and the belittling, the rants and the arguments, Detroit YES! is full of interesting ideas, heated debates and die-hard Detroiters.
“I’d always painted Detroit for a long time,” said Boileau — a fine art painter whose fine art Web sites include The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit and The Lost Synagogues of Detroit. Synagogues is a fascinating look at the old temples primarily in the Dexter-Linwood area — with their Hebrew lettering and other distinctive features — “a fossilized ethnic community” in Boileau’s words. “There’s this continuity — they’re pillars in the community," he said. "Times change but these places remain."
Ruins explores in-depth the fallen glory of Detroit’s great architecture — from now-demolished historic landmarks to spectacular old apartment buildings abandoned and nearly forgotten. Detroit YES grew out of the Ruins project. “I got into the Web to basically sell my paintings. But then I thought, what a great medium for creative expression — the story of Detroit through pictures and the voices of Detroit — the people who participate in the forums and add their knowledge.” A recent glance at the postings showed countless topics up for discussion: violence, politics, transportation, college tuition and the Tigers.
“There’s probably a core of 500 to 1,000 people who post on the forum — a hard core of about 100,” Boileau said. “It’s like talk radio — there are more people who look and listen. We have 2 million visitors a year — listening and learning.” Or in this case, reading and learning. And Boileau keeps track of demographics so he knows who’s visiting the site. He says the oldest is 80-something, the youngest is 13 — with an average age of about 30. So many people really love Detroit — open-minded people interested in reinventing Detroit. And that’s what this has uncovered.”
He said a lot of people have met on the forum and taken their common concerns into real life. “One group meets downtown a couple times a week; another group bought a building downtown and is rehabbing that. All this is sort of unintended — all the community that came from it.”
In addition to delving into a discussion on the site or touring the ruins of Detroit, visitors can check out Detroit Rises! — a photographic tour that takes you to the Fox Theatre, Campus Martius, the stadiums and Brush Park, among many other places where the city is showing positive growth. “I wanted to tell what really went wrong,” Boileau said. “And how can it go right? That’s the question. The race issue is huge, the expressways, mass transit, the failure to have an international city with Windsor ... and this is sort of my attempt to do a big painting in a new medium — with audience authoring.”
In a large way the audience decides the direction of the site — or the many directions. “It’s really unpredictable; it’s like a painting. You do a painting and then you do several ideas based on that painting. Here you connect people positively and let the audience do it. This is what’s exciting — enjoyable and positive too.” | RDW
Check out Lowell Boileau’s many projects at DetroitYES.com.
FOX 2’s Amy Lange and Michael Shore are freelance journalists for Real Detroit.