Detroit Artist Sees 'A Dangerous Lie' Behind Talk of A 'New Detroit'

Update, 3 p.m. Thursday: Kelly Guillory engages on social media with Deadline Detroit readers and others commenting on the reflections she posted Wednesday. This Facebook comment Thursday afternoon adds a useful perspective:

"The essay is only about people who come here under the guise of wanting to help the city but are racist. It is NOT against the resurgence of the city. I think many people misunderstood this despite the section where New Detroit very plainly tells a racist joke and then doesn't care about the POV [point of view] getting angry over it." 

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Kelly Guillory, a Detroit painter, comic artist and writer, is a keen observer of her changing city.

She has seen its social, economic and demographic evolution since graduating from Wayne County Community College five years ago and while studying fine arts at Wayne State, participating in street festivals and the Grand River Creative Corridor, working with five galleries and being culturally active in other ways.

Just as her acrylic canvases and vivid comics pop with bold directness, so do the stiletto-sharp observations Guillory unloads Wednesday in an online essay titled "New Detroit."

"New Detroit is better, prettier, evolving and more inclusive," says the subhead. "It’s also a dangerous lie."

"They hold parties where you go and have a good time. ... The food is from Whole Foods."

In a rhythmic, rolling series of lyrical paragraphs, Guillory sketches images of a city in flux.

New Detroit is not from Detroit, or maybe they are. . . . They arrived from just north of 8 Mile, from a suburb, drawn to Motown for its reemerging art scene. They moved here from New York. They moved here from Boston. They moved here from Los Angeles. They moved here from Iowa. . . .

They hold parties where you go and have a good time. The halls are filled with people who have amazing things to say. The food is from Honeybee. The food is from Whole Foods. The food is catered. There is no food but there is lots of beer.

The conversation is positive. The conversation is always positive. A camera crew or a team of photographers will take your picture. You will be tagged, smiling, with your new friends. . . . The pictures are on social media. The pictures are not on social media, but in a documentary. . . . You feel good for having gone to this party. 

The negative aspects of the city are not discussed. If you live in an apartment and say what’s wrong with it, it’s countered with the Silver Lining.

“You have to take the good with the bad, right?” says New Detroit, holding a bottle of local beer you haven’t tried yet.

The word painting sweeps and soars as Guillory alludes to rising Midtown and downtown rents, Cass Corridor demolitions, displaced residents and social media posts about a Slow Roll bike rider wearing blackface this week.

Kelly Guillory: "The negative aspects of the city are not discussed. . . . They see race, but don't talk about it." (Photo by Ashlie Lauren)

It's as though she snaps a series of revealing candids around town, applying a filter that cuts through the glare of relentless positive energy.  

New Detroit tells you about all of the great things happening here. He or she tells you what a wonderful time it is to be in the city. They say it’s a Clean Slate . . . the New Beginning, the Fresh Start. . . .

New Detroit believes in progress. They do not see race. They see race, but don’t talk about it. The talk about it very briefly before changing the subject. They ignore the discussion on classism or dismiss it with a neutral stance. New Detroit is any color, but they do not believe in rocking the boat. New Detroit wants you to understand with crystal clarity that they believe in equality for everyone.

New Detroit saw the racist thing you were outraged about on Facebook one day. They say there was nothing to be upset about. They say it wasn’t really racism. They say they don’t believe on focusing on the negative. They say the best way to change a situation is to simply lead by example.

Guillory, 32, is co-founder of the Ashur Collective publishing and illustration firm. She was a workshop presenter at the Detroit Design Festival in 2013 and 2014.

Her reflective riff concludes somberly on a downbeat note, a projection of what the author senses may lie ahead when "Detroit has become a new city." Check it out at and see if you recognize what Kelly Guillory sees.    

Read more:  Medium

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