When someone from out of town travels to Detroit, the usual destinations might be the Fox Theater for a concert, or Comerica Park for a Tiger’s game. But how do you explore the city on a deeper level without the double decker busses and big tour companies that many big cities have?
When Hostel Detroit opened its doors in April of 2011, its mission was to give its guests a behind the scenes look of the city and take visitors to places that would otherwise be overlooked.
Hostel Detroit is a 100 year old building. The outside is decorated with colorful painted bricks and murals of monster looking creatures. It’s located in Corktown, in a fairly vacant neighborhood across the expressway from the old train station.
While places like the old Michigan Central Station, with its skyline of broken windows, is just one of the many worn down buildings Detroit is known for, the general manager of Hostel Detroit, Michel Soucisse, says he sees his neighborhood a little differently.
“It’s a very peaceful, vast, pastoral space with a lot of its urban roots still showing,” Soucisse says.
But Soucisse knows people wouldn’t normally use words like pastoral to describe vacant land amidst abandoned buildings.
“We are a really embattled city,” Soucisse says. “I mean everyone has a really solid idea of what Detroit is. Everyone knows what it is: It’s one or two things: it's poverty, it's crime.”
But Soucisse wants to change that image.
“That’s what we want to do, is allow people to make their own story of the city rather than coming and maybe affirming a belief that someone handed down to them because they don’t have the information or access,” Soucisse says.
So like many days at Hostel Detroit, Soucisse crams in a handful of guests into his sedan and gives them a tour of the city.
One of his guests is Chloe Dietz, a student who goes to school in Portland Oregon who grew up in Brooklyn Michigan. She’s on a cross country tour by train. Another guest is Jonathan Dowdall who is an artist from Canada.
Dowdall says Detroit’s art scene drew him to the city.
“Detroit has always had a mythical presence in my mind and I’ve always imagined it a certain way. I really wanted to come here and see on the ground what it was like, in particular street art,” Dowdall says.
Our first stop on the trip is an outdoor street art project on the east side of Detroit called the Heidelberg project created by artist Tyree Guyton.
The project takes up an entire city block. Think of it like Sesame Street that’s gone to the dark side. Houses are painted with huge colorful polka dots, dozens of stuffed animals hang off another house and a mix of what used to be junk is made into sculptures in the open yards.
After a walk around the Heidelberg project, we hop back in the car and Sousicce gives another tour by car to Eastern Market, West Village and Downtown Detroit on the way to the next destination.
The next stop on the trip is a hidden sculpture park next to the African Bead Museum, created by the museum’s owner, Olayame Dabls.
Like the Heidelberg project, abandoned objects are used to create art and sculptures. Here there are rows of chairs with rocks on them facing an African mask on a tree stump. The houses that surround the sculpture park are covered with mirrors and painted with a hodgepodge of colors and patterns.
After the tour of the sculpture park, we pack back in the car and the travelers get dropped off at another destination.
And as they are off to explore on their own, Soisicce, the general manager of Hostel Detroit, hopes they will come back with a deeper understanding of the city than they did before.
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