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Detroit in 2018

Call Number: GEN MSS 1601
Description of Papers

Views of sites and portraits of people at Detroit, Michigan, created by Karen Halverson in July 2018 and printed as color inkjet prints on Canson Platine Fibre Rag Paper, 20 x 24 inches (51 x 61 centimeters). Images include views of abandoned buildings and empty lots as well as portraits of residents at community gardens. The prints are chiefly untitled with parenthetical numbers provided by Halverson to differentiate images. The collection comprises an edition numbered three of twelve. In an artist's statement from March 2019 that accompanied the collection upon acquisition, Halverson describes the work:

In the spring of 2018, several articles in the New York Times alerted me to the news that Detroit was "coming back" from the steep economic decline that had begun more than 50 years earlier. At its peak in the 1950s, Detroit had a thriving automotive industry. In the 1960s, the Germans and the Japanese shifted to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars while Detroit continued to produce gas guzzling cars. Soon factories were being closed and workers laid off. The Detroit race riots in 1967 resulted in white flight to the suburbs. When the city invested in urban renewal, it uprooted African American neighborhoods. In 2013, after decades of decline, the city fell into bankruptcy and receivership. Then in 2018 Detroit regained its own management, a sign that things were finally beginning to turn around. However, its population was down to 700,000 from its high of 1.8 million in the 1950s.

Detroit occupies 138 square miles. In 2018, about a third of the city's territory, or roughly 40 square miles, was unoccupied. Over the decades, thousands of houses were abandoned and left to disintegrate. By 2018, the city had razed most, but not all, of them. Now vacant lots are a presence everywhere in the city. Many of them are green and some are even dotted with wildflowers.

Over the decades there's been a lot of coverage of Detroit's fall. Photographers have tended to emphasize the city's decay, making images that one local I met called "urban porn." I took a different approach. I chose to focus on what I saw as signs of Detroit's renewal, of hard work, and of creativity. I was especially impressed by urban agriculture and saw it as an expression of Detroit's desire for self-reliance.

Detroit has a long history of urban farming, dating back to the late nineteenth century. But there has been a resurgence in recent years. One organization, Detroit Agriculture, estimates that there are currently 1,500 gardens and farms in the city. People can buy a vacant lot cheaply and turn it into cultivated land, producing vegetables for home use, for sale, or for donation to the needy. Some gardens operate as educational opportunities for schoolchildren. Some unoccupied buildings that still stand have been painted vivid colors, or adorned in other visually striking ways. What I found in Detroit is that people care about their environment enough to improve it one way or another. They are not just waiting for the city or the state to come to their rescue. They're taking matters into their own hands.

Language of Materials

In English

Conditions Governing Access

This material is open for research.

Ownership & Copyright

The Karen Halverson, Detroit in 2018, are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Karen Halverson on the Frederick W. and Carrie S. Beinecke Fund for Western Americana, 2019.


Arranged by the creator.

6.51 Linear Feet (3 boxes)
Related Names
Halverson, Karen, 1941-
Halverson, Karen, 1941-
Language of Materials