GUERRA: Flint's problems are pretty well documented. But just in case, here's a rundown: murders, arson, blight, poverty, massive police layoffs and the dubious honor of being named one of the most violent cities in the country.
And then of course there's Michael Moore's 1989 movie Roger and Me...which basically memorialized Flint's decline on the big screen. A movie Stephen Zacks would rather forget:
ZACKS: People know Michael Moore and they know Roger and Me and so you respond to that question for your whole life. You keep answering the question: What's wrong with Flint?
GUERRA: The other comment he hears a lot is - oh Flint! Right, I think I've driven by it on the highway. So Zacks - a Flint native who now lives in New York - has moved back to his hometown temporarily to start a new, city-wide public art project. But he wants to be clear about one thing:
ZACKS: It's not a project to try to save Flint. It's a project to collaborate with people who live in Flint. Trying to find areas of the city are underutilized and where people who live in those neighborhoods would like to see something happen, and we're trying to make them happen quickly.
GUERRA: The goal is to create a bunch of temporary art installations around the city...whether it's in abandoned buildings or along the river or in someone's front yard. Create almost a kind of critical mass of small projects....that will maybe, just maybe get the people in Flint to start to see their city differently.
Zacks is talking to anyone and everyone for the project. Local and national artists, community organizers, neighborhood associations, business owners. He even pitched the idea to Flint Mayor Dayne Waling...who seems to like the idea:
WALLING: It would be wonderful if this project creates such strong new memories and new attachments that our community refers to these now vacant sites as the place where that really cool installation was put in as opposed to that's where people went to work and the factory closed and we hit all these bad times.
GUERRA: Walling and Zacks met for coffee and talked about the project for about an hour. The two kicked around ideas for potential sites for the installations...the vacant lot known as Chevy in the Hole, Atwood Stadium...
WALLING: Another space to think about on Grand Traverse and University, one of the long time problem loitering spaces, former grocery market and parking lot, is being greened, so all of that is being removed...
GUERRA: When I asked the Mayor if he really thought something like this could make a difference in the city...he didn't give a definitive yes, but he said he's open minded:
WALLING: I have tried to really keep that open door to new ideas b/c obviously the old approaches aren't working in Flint anymore.
GUERRA: Most of the money for the Flint Public Art Project will come from grants. Zacks launched an online fundraising campaign to bring in money that way, too. And while the projects main focus is on temporary art installations... Stephen Zacks hopes something more permanent will come out it:
ZACKS: I would like for there to be a landmark that is really integral to the place that emerges from the project. Where you'd see a sign from the highway that says, that's amazing!
GUERRA: He says that'll all depend on how much community "buy in" there is for the idea. Which is where they might have their work cut out for them. Cade Surface is a student at U of M Flint and he' helping Zacks with the project. He says he's already gotten some flak from folks in town:
SURFACE: I've heard its Auto World 2.0.
GUERRA: That's the now defunct indoor theme park in Flint
SURFACE: I think sometimes people around here - including myself - can be kind of cynical of people from outside coming in with their ideas because we have had that come in before and it hasn't worked. Doesn't mean it's a reason to stop trying!
GUERRA: Surface says yeah it might be a pie in the sky...but it also just might work.