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Wednesday, February 62013 . SB
ler's "This is Detroit, This is What We Do"
ad featuring Eminem aired during the Super
Bowl, Conlin's article on Detroit, "36 Hours
in Detroit," was published. It quickly became
the most e-mailed article on The New York
Times website, a feat that Conlin admits sur-
To craft the article, Conlin spent a night
in Detroit's Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel and
ventured around the city's restaurants, his-
toric sites and art attractions. She encouraged
readers to visit Detroit venues such as Cliff
Bell's jazz club, Cafe D'Mongo, Slows Bar BQ
and Eastern Market.
"DESPITE recent news stories of a popula-
tion exodus from Detroit," the article opened,
"there are many reasons to make a pilgrim-
age to this strugglingcity right now - and not
bust because Eminem's slick Super Bowl com-
mercial showcased the inner strength of the
Motor City. No video can portray the passion
ne finds on the streets of Detroit these days,
where everyone from the doorman to the D.J.
will tell you they believe in this city's future."
The article praised Detroit's most promis-
ing neighborhoods, stating "midtown, down-
town and Corktown - are bustling with new
businesses that range from creperies and
barbecue joints catering to the young artists
entrepreneurs migrating to Motown."
Though excited with how many attractions
the city offered, Conlin also saw the city's
"Having lived in cities our whole life - in
=Paris, in Brussels, in London, in Cairo -we're
such urbanites that we could just see the kind
of sadness that had taken over (Detroit),"
After the article's success, she wanted to
do more. She thought about ways she could
.help Detroit and considered following up "36
Hours" with more articles about the city. But
her husband suggested a different approach.
He suggested not to "drive your editors
crazy" with more Detroit articles and encour-
aged her to try something more permanent.
allow anyone to say how they felt about a play,
concert or exhibit?
This team, CriticCar Detroit, would collect'
video reviews of plays, concerts, festivals and
other events, publish the reviews in one place
and help elevate the discussion of arts events
in Detroit. The real, genuine people of Detroit
could have a voice, and maybe their apprecia-
tion for art could increase, Conlin believed.
CriticCar would be like a Yelp or Rotten
Tomatoes, but instead of restaurant or movie
reviews it would be the go-to place for on-the-
scene reviews of Detroit's 'cultural events.
Conlin said culture is the reason people go to
While Conlin said people easily make emo-
tional attachments to music or television,
Conlin hoped to explore the idea that "you
can have that feeling in a museum with paint-
ings, or in a sculpture garden, or through
dance." Maybe CriticCar could show that.
After an intense competition, it became
apparent that the Community Challenge's
judges agreed that CriticCar could help ele-
vate the arts in Detroit. In April 2012, it was
declared one of three winners, beating out
232 other proposals from across the coun-
try to win an $80,000 grant. The Cultural
Alliance of Southeastern Michigan, a local
National Endowment for the Arts agency,
receives the funds, funneling them to Critic-
Car and Artrain, a non-profit with a mission
to bring the arts to developing communities.
In a city that has a suffered so much, per-
haps CriticCar could revolutionize arts jour-
nalism and bring art to the community.
Before hitting the streets of Detroit, the
team tested elements of their idea, and the
plan evolved. After finding that people did
not necessarily like the idea of getting into
the back of a strange car, it was decided that
reviews would take place in the lobby or on
the sidewalk outside where events are held.
And after a normal video camera seemed
troublesome to transport, it was decided that
the team would record the interviews using
iPads and a microphone, which people seem
to find more personal. Lastly, while the origi-
nal idea of the concept had the team driving
around in a big orange-and-black CriticCar
vehicle, the team does not yet have acar, other
than team members' personal vehicles.
"I'm not going to be as obsessive about
getting a huge, vintage, cool, outfitted car
because I don't want to blow my money on
that," Conlin said.
Conlin said the NEA was concerned during
the competition, wondering whether Critic-
Car could actually elevate the arts, but so far
- a month into the program - she is "amazed
by how articulate how people are." She added
that the Detroiters who understand the leg-
acy and greatness of the city, and those who
she seeks to interview, might be underrepre-
sented in other media outlets.
"You could have somebody sitting there
going, 'The allegory of the cars shaking as
Detroit is rattled by the changes in the auto-
motive industry,' but this is what I wanted.
These are real Detroiters," Conlin said.
* Lights. Camera. Action.
Back inside the Hilberry, the blood-curdling
screams of a dying character onstage erupt
from within the auditorium, and the CriticCar
team waiting out in the lobby stands to atten-
tion upon hearing a loud applause. They're
ready when the large brown metallic doors
of the auditorium open, and grinning faces -
young and old - pour out into the lobby.
Conlin approaches the patrons and quickly
asks if they would like to go on camera and
provide a thirty-second review of the play
they had just seen - "Goodnight Desdemona
(Good Morning Juliet)" - a comedy inspired by
Shakespeare's tragedies "Othello" and "Romeo
and Juliet" that has been running at the Hilber-
ry since last November.
If they are interested, and they usually are,
Conlin's associate from Artrain, Shoshana
Hurand, approaches.them with a clipboard,
release forms and a pen. After signing the
forms, interviewees are lead over to Ostrander,
who stands with an iPad and microphone in one
of the lobby's few favorablylit areas.
Again and again, playgoers come over to
Ostrander, pick up a microphone replete with
the orange-aid-black CriticCar logo, and stand
in front of the iPad's gaze, where they say what
Two college-aged friends, Denzel Clark and
Shane Nelson, come up to Conlin and say they
would like to give a joint review. Standing next
to each other, they take turns offering their
"I was very impressed with the overall cast
as a whole, to kind of go back and have that mix
of modern, as well as Shakespearean language
- they really did a great job at doingthat," Nel-
son said, before putting the microphone toward
"I thought thathelped keep it moving," Clark
said, making a face. "If it was, like, all Shake-
speare people would havebeen like 'what?'"
Conlin said she has found it does not help to
give people a long-winded explanation about
what CriticCar is, how it has-a grant and how
it will help Detroit. It's pretty effective to'just
prompt them for a short review. Ostrander
silently holds the iPad, and interviewees have a
lot to say.
Over time, the team hopes that the CriticCar
presence will draw people to Detroit's events by
feeding the desire people have to get their opin-
ions on camera.
"(Venues) want us to come in and promote
their space, but they also want CriticCar to do
well," Hurand said.
CriticCar left the Hilberry that night with
eight interviews, adding to the 12 interviews
recorded earlier in the day at the Detroit Inter-
national Auto Show, an event that Conlin notes
might not fit in with CriticCar's usual itinerary.
In the Detroit Cobo Center, amidst the
crowds, loud music and parade of people wear-
ing paper mache costumes of famous Detroit
figures like Sparky Anderson, CriticCar weaved
its way around to interview attendees of all ages
about the vehicles on display.
"The main thing is I just want to get a diver-
sity of opinions and personalities," Hurand said,
while holding the clipboard of release forms
and scanning the crowd for people who look
particularly interested in the cars on display. "I
want the people who are often in thatscene and
the people who are experiencing that scene for
the first time."
On CriticCar's YouTube page - the current
platform for the project - users can already see
diversity in the growing collection of reviews
CriticCar has collected in its first month. In a
27-second video, Emily New, a girl who looks to
be of elementary-school age, stands in front of a
car, looking into the iPad.
"I'm at the Detroit Auto Show, here in front
of the smart car for stars," New said. "It has a
sunroof that goes from front to back, and it
has beautiful color. On the front it looks like it
has a smiley face, and the rims look really cool,
because they are black and orange and very
Next, a grinning Rahid Chowdhury, who
appears to be in his 20s, offers another enthusi-
astic review of a BMW, talking about the car as
ifhe just purchased it.
"I'm on the BMW Z, Z-4. Oh, yeah - this
baby's sick! There's this crazy-ass car righthere,
ya know? I love the CD player, leather interior
- it's an amazing car ... driving on the freeway
with the roof down, oh, man, this is like luxury,
going110 down the freeway, the speed limit, the
And another video takes the CriticCar team
to a DLECTRICITY puppet performance in
October. On Oct. 5 and 6, DLECTRICITY
hosted a nighttime art festival across the city
that aimed to highlight antique architecture
through new art technology. After attending
a puppet show that was part of the festival, a
young girl, Amara Small, gave her review.
"I like the show after they showed all the
puppets; this was a very fun day at the puppet
show, and I like Detroit because Detroit is very
Though Conlin recognizes the growing care
people have for Detroit, she's realistic about the
challenge the city faces.
"(You) can't think this automotive sector is
going to save it again because it's just not, can't
pretend the creative community can save it
because they can't and you can't pretend com-
munity gardens should be everywhere because
they shouldn't," Conlin said. "It's a combination
of all these things."
And for Conlin, she hopes CriticCar can
show how, in the midst of adversity, creativity
has taken hold in the city.
"I think a lot of people are drawn to Detroit
because it doesn't have all these things that
other cities have," Conlin said. "Novrit's getting
a Whole Foods and a Meijer, and that is good in
terms of employment ... But on the other hand,
Eastern Market has become this place that feeds
everybody, Honeybee's has become thisplace in
Mexicantown that feeds everybody. There's all
of these cottage industries, guys making bagels
because there's no bagel place. And you see the
fact that the city doesn't have a lot has made
people be really creative, and now they don't
necessarily want it to have everything."