Category Archives: Art

An Ode to Detroit's Lost Paradise Valley

“Boogie Chillun” is about the neighborhood of Paradise Valley in Detroit, which was destroyed by urban renewal. The Valley, or the “Black Bottom,” was much like the Harlem of Detroit.

From Experience Detroit:

Like many other Paradise Valley residents, John Lee Hooker moved north from the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s.  Hooker brought with him not only a desire for factory work, but also the foundations of the Delta Blues.  He, along with other Detroit bluesmen such as Baby Boy Warren, Calvin Frazier, and Bobo Jenkins transformed traditional Delta Blues with electric amplified instruments and the infusion of a more eclectic assortment of instruments such as the bass and piano.  They worked in factories during the day and at night performed at classic Hastings Street clubs such as the Flame Show Bar, Three Star Bar, and Forest Club.  Hooker went on to become internationally famous and perhaps the greatest Blues performer of all time with his unique brand of foot-stomping boogie.  Despite their significant influence, Detroit’s other bluesmen were less prolific due to the lack of record labels in Detroit at the time.  Sadly, Hastings Street is no longer and is now buried beneath the Chrysler Freeway (I-75).  However, the sounds of that era are captured in the extensive recordings of John Lee Hooker and the rarer performances of the other Detroit bluesmen.

— This whole post is basically a rip-off of a Facebook post by Sean Posey.

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A Detroit Band with Staying Power


If you have’nt heard of Joe Hertler and the Rainbow Seekers (JH+TRS), don’t worry, because you definitely will. Like a breezy breath of cool, fresh air blowing off of our lovely blue waters, this band brings to life a captivating musical style and awesome songwriting both on the stage and in its recordings. Their shows are filled with superb music and musicianship, tons of rollicking good fun, an eye-popping blizzard of floral/Hawaiian patterns, hilarious/zany eyewear, colorful balloons, and bouncing beach balls. It’s obvious that JH+TRS are having a great time on stage and everyone in the audience is invited to join the party…and they most certainly do.



Outstanding and often poignant lyrics will captivate you and draw you into each song’s story. Many of the song titles and themes may be Michigan-based (Ego Loss on Grand River Avenue, Red Wings, or J.L. Hudson for example), but the lyrics are truly universal. Meanwhile the hooks, melodies, and guitar riffs will have you bobbing your head and dusting off your well-worn air guitar to play along.  Here is what many considered the band’s signature song (Ego Loss on Grand River Avenue) from the album On Being:

And here are two excellent recent additions to the band’s discography (Your Story and Hometown)

What’s most enjoyable about JH+TRS is the way each of their tunes seeps down into you and occupies your heart and soul.  You’re not just idly listening to music by JH+TRS: you are experiencing it, as they skillfully portray life’s ups and downs from a Michigander’s/Rust Belter’s point of view.  And it is nice to know that we Michiganders and Rust Belters have some really cool (and important) things to say–without having to move away to say it!

Rick Brown

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"The Baby Doll Dance" — Fourth of July in the Mahoning Valley

These photos come from my friend Megan Rosati. They were taken on Fourth of July in Lowellville, Ohio–a small town not far from Youngstown.

Folks in Lowellville have been celebrating the Fourth with “The Baby Doll Dance” for more than 100 years. The tradition was imported from Italy and takes place every year at the Mount Carmel Festival, an Italian church summer festival. These festivals, if you’ve not had a chance to attend one, are very possibly the greatest thing ever–cavatelli and meatballs!

Anyway, I just think this is a really cool local tradition (it’s right up there with dropping the walleye in Port Clinton, Ohio).

So here the band's warming up.


And here they're wheeling the old lady out.


And now they’re setting her ablaze.
There she goes. In Italian tradition burning the baby doll was a way to ceremoniously cast off the bad deeds of the previous year. Originally they used to also blow up her head.

My friend Megan said her friend Lisa got burned at this event. It is not a good fireworks show unless someone gets burned.

The end. If you’d like to read more, here’s an article from the Vindicator.



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Repurposing “streets with no name”


In a number of cities, there are certain derelict streets that are nearly denuded of dwellings or businesses. Desolate and forlorn, these streets resemble something out of a post war apocalypse. Detroit may be the poster child du jour of such stark and sad emptiness, but there are many other examples across the Rust Belt and elsewhere. What to do with neglected streets has long been a source of planning discussion and conjecture. In some instances entire abandoned neighborhoods have or are being converted to urban agriculture or community gardens. However, this avid bicycle commuter has another suggestion for a few of these lowly streets without names – repurpose them to active transportation byways.

Quite often bicycle routes consist of abandoned railroad corridors, canal towpaths, or shared lanes in a sea of motor vehicles. I, like many other cyclists, am not necessarily enamored with having to pedal cheek-to-cheek with four-wheeled motorized metal missiles. Seems no matter the efforts to stave off accidents and injury, the metal missiles will always win the contest. The other problem is that there are a finite number of old railroad or canal corridors to choose from, so many populations go un or underserved.

Hence, if a street is already underutilized and virtually desolate, then why not just finish the job? Why not consider purchasing or re-accessing those land uses that have currently sole access to the particular street and then repurpose the entire street into an active transportation byway serving bicyclists, pedestrians, joggers, roller-bladers, Segway users, and others?

In certain instances, “streets with no name” could be converted to mass transit corridors akin to busways. Needless to say, not every desolate street or remnant neighborhood would be appropriate for such a transformation, but I would be willing to bet that in certain cities and in certain locations, there are some excellent opportunities just waiting for foresighted leaders to actively pursue this idea.


Converting an existing street would also seem to be an easier/effective/efficient/economical way to expand a city’s active transportation infrastructure rather than wholly design, acquire, and build a completely new route. Given the extent of economic decline that would precipitate a “street with no name,” it would be hard to imagine any land acquisition costs being a significant impediment. Lastly, necessary public utilities along the byway along the could remain accessible for care, maintenance, and serve the revitalized


The short-term goals of establishing active transportation byways are to:

· enhance the city’s and region’s active transportation resources;

· reduce the city’s and region’s carbon footprint;

· improve overall community health and fitness;

· reinvigorate the sense of place;

· to rebuild community pride; and

· infuse economic energy and cultural vibe.


In the longer-term, the goal of such a repurposing enterprise would be to effectively stymy and then to reverse the decline found along these desolated streets and their adjoining neighborhoods by utilizing active transportation corridors as the conduit.

Am I missing or overlooking something here? Any thoughts or feedback on these ideas would be appreciated.

– Rick Brown

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Filed under architecture, Art, Economic Development, Featured, Good Ideas, Public Transportation, Real Estate, the environment, Urban Farming, Urban Planning

Help Us Choose a Larry Dolan Mascot

Rust Wire put out a call for entries last week, calling for treating Cleveland Indians owner Larry Dolan with the same respect he treats native Americans — namely developing a mocking and offense caricature of the old money lawyer.

We are really excited to have received four excellent submissions from four people around North America. I said I would give $100 to the winner, and print out the image on some t-shirts to sell, give Dolan a taste of his own medicine.

Just as a refresher, here’s what we’re working with


Ok. Without further ado: the submissions. You can vote at the bottom.

This was submitted by A. Stematz:

This one comes to us from Tom G:

This one is from Victoria Hinchcliffe:
And finally, NYC artist Collen DeBose:
I am interested to hear your feedback because I was planning to print one of these out and try selling it.

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Cleveland's Dee Jay Doc Harrill — Using Hip Hop as a Change Agent

This is part of a series on being a white person in the African-American Hough neighborhood of Cleveland. You can see the intro, why it’s like a small town, Mansfield Frazier’s response, history of the neighborhood, @#!& black people say to white people, and “A Place Worth Living”: defending a deeply stigmatized neighborhood.

To continue the conversation about cross-cultural experiences in the inner city, I interviewed a friend living in the Glenville neighborhood, Doc Harrill. We have kids the same age and he and his wife are amazing indie artists making the most of city living. He is currently raising funds for his awesome project FRESH Camp on IndieGoGo.
What is Fresh Camp? 

The FRESH Camp is a summer camp I founded here in Glenville in 2011. In addition to this, I run programs as an artist-in-residence in schools, after-school programs and drug treatment centers. You can read more or listen to music from a few: Fatima Family Center, Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, Mary Bethune Elementary School, MC2 Stem High School, Lake Erie Ink and New Directions drug rehab center.

How did you get involved with The FRESH Camp summer camp?

At our neighborhood block watch meeting we were discussing how to communicate neighborhood safety tips to all of our neighbors. I suggested that I could help youth in our area create songs with safety tips and let them spread the message themselves. This could be more powerful than us adults handing out a simple flier. Radiah Douglas, who worked at Famicos Foundation (our neighborhood’s community development corporation), found a small grant for a one week summer camp for 13 students. That was July 2011. We produced this song called, “United.” 

Last year, our newly formed team received a grant from Neighborhood Connections, and we were able to raise additional funds through an Indiegogo Campaign. This helped us double the camp length to two weeks and host 23 students. We produced a 6-song CD. They even created a video to show what’s FRESH in our neighborhood to some traveling farmers in Panama. They really tried to share what’s FRESH in our neighborhood and spread their message of change through hip-hop.

What’s the best thing about living in Cleveland?  

I wrote a rap song about this in 2011 for The Cleveland City Living Awards. It’s called “Cleveland Faces.” That should be self-explanatory, but I can restate it like this;  it’s the people who make Cleveland great. If we run or move away from other people who seem different from us, we learn to live life in a manner where knowing people seems risky, not worth it, and even, forgotten about. But when we take a minute and turn a stranger into a friend, we find richness all around us. When my wife and I moved into Glenville seven years ago, we started next door. Soon we knew most of the families on our street. Then some of our long-time friends and fellow indie artists moved onto our street. . . some bought houses, some rent rooms. When we get to know the brillant minds in Cleveland doing great things, we see how diverse and strong we are. And when we work together for change, change we shall see.
What were your reasons for buying a house & raising your kids in the city?  

Affordability and culture. As independent artists, my wife and I needed a low cost living space that had the benefit of having a low cost artist workspace for making music and jewelry. Having one utility bill for both of these helps a lot! Not only are many houses in the city affordable (and taxes low), they are well-built, historical structures that have history and culture in and around them. Just a few blocks away we can walk through the Cleveland Cultural Gardens, visit MOCA, shop at our local Gateway 105 Farmers’ Market, buy a Christmas Tree at a family owned store, or hop on the Rapid Transit straight downtown or to the airport. 

A Fresh Camp participant.

When we moved here, we did not have children, but now we have a 2 year old and a 4 year old. While there are many concerns raised about the quality of Cleveland City Schools, there are many new initiatives and charter school options in the city. I just did a residency at a Cleveland City public school called, the MC2 STEM school.  I helped the 9th grade, who meet in the Cleveland Science Center, create a 22 song CD called, “What’s Your Message.” This school, it’s students, and it’s staff are AMAZING! When my son is old enough, I’d love for him to go there. 

Also, because housing costs are lower here than most suburbs, we were actually able to afford sending our son to The Music Settlement for an amazing pre-school experience. We might not have been able to afford pre-school otherwise. And it’s nice to walk there on sunny days. I know other parents who drive 30 minutes or more to send their children there.
What are your concerns about living in the city and how do you address them?  

Well, my concerns are no different than any of my other neighbors. . . quality of the public schools, theft, affordable-healthy food where I don’t have to drive 30 minutes to Trader Joe’s just to find. We try to find creative solutions like joining Fresh Fork, supporting our farmers’ market, growing our own garden, buying meat directly from farmers, and rallying students and families together to create change. The FRESH Camp is one of the things I hope will help in the long term as students in our neighborhood grow up with a stronger perspective about how to be a citizen who cares, and one who can create the change they hope to see.
How did/do you educate yourself about the culture and issues of inner city black neighborhoods?  

I took a while. . . it’s a life long pursuit I guess, to learn a culture different from your own. I’ve had black friends my whole life, and when I was a teen growing up in Mayfield Hts., I never quite understood why black and white people seemed so different and lived so apart. I like black culture. I like white culture. But what I love the most is when WE are together. . . being humans. . . being neighbors. 

I learned black culture from every black person I’ve ever met. When I was a teen growing up in a white church and a white school, I guess I Iearned some from listening to hip-hop. I started my own hip-hop group with a black friend from University Hts. Him and his family taught me how similar we (whites and blacks) actually are. When I was 16, my brother and I, were the only white guys to join an African American men’s Bible study group on Eddy Road. At first, I was surprised we were allowed in. But these guys appreciated us and taught us a lot. A few were also rappers, so we did some performances together at Cedar Point and some parks.

I’ll always remember, after one of these performances, one of the older men asked me, “Do you know what soul is?” I wasn’t sure. I knew black people had it, but I wasn’t sure if I could. He described it this way. . . When you perform, no black person cares if you make a mistake or not. . . or if you don’t do your dance move at the exact moment it’s supposed to be done. They will only “feel you” if they believe you are authentically expressing what you feel inside. Up to that point, I was always nervous that black folk would think I’m too white. And I was also afraid of missing a word, or being off beat. In my white culture, I learned to write down speeches in order to read word for word so I wouldn’t not mess up. I learned to sing a song exactly as it’s written. But, I found out, it’s just as important that I be myself and show myself through the music. I also found out I need to know my material to the point where I can actually freestyle and that I should only perform or talk about things I know. Because if I need my paper script, I must not know what I’m talking about. That’s what I learned from black culture.
I moved in with my Grandpa in (South) Collinwood at age 21. It was a white (Italian) neighborhood when I was a boy, but by this time it had flipped (white flight). I learned more black culture and issues surrounding black-white relations when I had to proove myself at the neighborhood basketball court every time out until most of the guys knew me and that I was pretty good on the court (yes,I got called Larry Bird a few times). I learned more when a white neighbor through a fire cracker at me and shouted, “You #$%! n***** lover!” because he saw black and latino friends come over often to record or make music at my house. 

Then I learned about the issues of poverty and inner city life when I was scraping to get by as an independent musician. I learned how to go to the junk yard for parts to fix my own rusty van. I learned how to sell scrap metal to the scrap yard instead of simply throwing it away. I learned the differences between rich and poor schools while working as an artist in residence in a bunch of Cleveland schools. I couldn’t find soap or toilet paper in the bathrooms. I saw the stress on teachers’ faces. I saw the lack of updated computers and quality arts programing. And I learned about the issues of feeling safe in your yard when I was held up at gun point in my back yard by a neighborhood teen. These things were tough and hard to grapple with.

But, then I remembered some things that happened in the “safe” suburb I grew up in. A student from my white school basketball team committed suicide, another down the street committed a horrible act of murder and suicide, a close friend of mine lost his Dad (a fire fighter who died in a fire) and delved into drugs, another went ballistic on the police because he was on some crazy hallucinogen.

We can find safety or crime, love or hate in the inner city or in the burbs. It’s all how we choose to live.
In addition to supporting your IndieGoGo campaign, how can others get involved in the good things happening in our post-industrial urban centers? 

1. Like I said in this interview/rap video on Neotropolis, “There’s a fine line between a stranger and a neighbor.” Erase a few of those lines.

2. Consider moving into the city. If you are a good, upstanding citizen with resources, the worst thing for the city is when you move away to create your own “safe place.” Each person that moves away, leaves a void where they could have been. And they receive a void from the variety they lose by living near those the same as them. As we are finding out more and more each year, there are no “safe places” to escape to, only “safe places” you create through relationship and love. The city is a great place for this.

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Artists, Call for Entries: Make Larry Dolan into Grinning Idiot Mascot

This is Larry Dolan. Dolan owns the Cleveland Indians. He’s the guy who makes money from selling t-shirts with grotesque, offensive characterizations of native Americans on them, at least he’s the main one.

I hate the Cleveland Indian’s logo. I have some close friends in Cleveland that are native American and they hate it also. It’s embarrassing for the region. It’s embarrassing for humanity. I could forgive Cleveland for this logo if it was 1929, but it’s 2013 for Christ’s sake — mocking victims of genocide just isn’t cool anymore. Somehow though, Cleveland’s mascot exists in this vacuum where racial sensitivities haven’t evolved since Gone with the Wind premiered.

Anyway, I have an idea. I need your help. I want to commission an artist to do a grotesque, mocking caricature of Larry Dolan that I can print on some t-shirts and sell to other people that are offended by his profiteering from humiliating and stereotyping an oppressed minority group. Now, I realize it won’t ever be as hurtful, since people like Dolan, a lawyer who attended St. Ignatius prep school, haven’t had to endure 100s of years of human rights abuses. But what can we do?

Anyway if you are an artist or know an artist who is up to the task, we’re looking for a cartoon image of Dolan in the style of Chief Wahoo, the more insulting the better. I can pay $100, which isn’t much. But also, if any sympathetic readers want to donate to this campaign, using the Paypal link on the right hand side of the website, I’ll add that to the pot and give it to the designer.

Cleveland should have dropped Chief Wahoo decades ago. I really think that the dreadful track record of this city’s sports team might have something to do with the bad karma this tasteless mascot earns us. I haven’t been to any of the opening day protests, but if you ask me they should move them to the lawn of Progressive Insurance — who owns the naming rights to the Indians stadium — on the day of the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting. It’s unbelievable to me that respectable businesses and businessmen would attach their names to something so insensitive. Or that the region would for that matter, especially as it tries to attract immigrants and repair its national image.

Anyway, email us at rustbeltnews [at] gmail [dot] com to submit entries or ask questions.

UPDATE: We already got this pretty slick drawing from New York City artist Collen DeBose. Check it out:



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