555 Arts Installed at Former Third Precinct Building

May 12th, 2012
The renovated Third Precinct on Vernor in southwest Detroit

It may seem ironic that an organization of artists who celebrate creative freedom should be newly ensconced at the old police station in southwest Detroit. The jail cells are still there. So are the telltale signs of the firing range in the basement. Though the building has been restored, it remains raw in many respects.

The irony, however, makes perfect sense. Art can be subversive. Artists take raw materials and shape them into new and compelling forms that challenge us to think and feel differently. Artists are often the forerunners of urban change.

The presence of 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios at the Third Precinct expresses all these things. 555 moved into the building in late April, and the artists are busy transforming the space in their vision.

“Before it was abandoned, the Third Precinct building had a long and often negative history,” says Carl Goines, executive director of 555. “We want to find creative ways to re-purpose the building to benefit the community.

“As it evolves, the building will have a mixed feeling and palette. Right now it has an institutional and pseudo-industrial cast, but we will keep pushing it to be more contemporary, while maintaining the historical dialogue that is part of the character of the building,” Carl says

Carl and Monte Martinez founded 555 in 2002 as a volunteer artist-run organization that embraces artists in all disciplines. 555 offers affordable studios and work areas, gallery and exhibition space, artist in residency opportunities, and arts education programs open to the public.

“We strive to be an integral part of the community and we strongly believe that art can be a force for change,” says Monte, who serves as creative director.

555 shares the Third Precinct with Detroit Farm and Garden, a local company that provides quality gardening, farming and landscape supplies. Southwest Solutions renovated the building, which had been vacant since 2005, when the Detroit Police Department reorganized its precincts. After being abandoned, the station became a conspicuous eyesore, riddled with graffiti, broken windows and overgrown weeds. The building stands at a strategic location – at the entrance of the Vernor commercial corridor into Mexicantown, and at the foot of the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest international crossing in North America. Southwest Solutions spent about $1.5M – from a variety of funding sources – to rehabilitate the building and remediate many of its environmental issues.

“The Third Precinct project is an important piece in the community and collaborative effort to develop the area into a vibrant cultural, entertainment and commercial district,” says Tim Thorland, executive director of Southwest Housing Solutions.

The 555 section of the building is about 7,000 sq ft. It includes 2,500 sq ft of gallery and performance space; 700 sq ft of program and education space; seven private art studio spaces; and 21 jail cells that artists can use to work.

555 has commitments from artists and arts organizations to sublease space, but there is still space available for as little as $1.25 sq ft, including many amenities. Interested artists, arts organizations or arts businesses should contact Carl at carl@555arts.org.

555 has started offering arts education programming at the Third Precinct. The Saturday Art Club meets on the second Saturday of every month and provides fun, creative activities for families with children 7-14 years old. Participants learn to make mosaics, ceramic bird feeders, mobiles, and small murals. The classes are taught by Liz Sutton, education director at 555. For more information, contact Liz at liz@555arts.org or 888-495-ARTS.

As 555 settles into the building, more events, exhibits, performances and programming will be offered. A schedule is posted on the 555 website.

One attraction that already draws visitors is the mural by internationally renowned street artist Banksy. Banksy painted the mural in 2010 at the abandoned Packard plant in Detroit. 555 removed the artwork to save it from being destroyed, and now has legal title to this important piece.

The mural depicts the artist himself, holding a can of red paint and paintbrush, with the words “I remember when all this was trees” written in red next to him. The artist stares at the viewer, with a serious and knowing look, harkening back in history, and heralding another chapter to come.

It is a fitting work to help inaugurate a new beginning for the building.

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