Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert are the power duo behind Power House Productions
The first time most people heard the words “Power” and “House” attached to the names Mitch Cope and Gina Reichert was in fall of September 2008, when the artist/architect married couple wrote a piece in the Metro Times about their neighborhood sustainability project on a street corner just north of the Hamtramck border.
In retrospect seen as their Power House manifesto, Cope and Reichert wrote that in developing the project to include more structures they would emphasize “the multicultural aspect of our neighborhood … the opening-up of the design and construction process would be seen as public performances.”
They also said that boarded-up houses waiting for windows to be installed “would become a temporary sculptural element doubling as a security feature. Or if a vacant lot or house simply needed to make itself known as not vacant, thousands of solar garden lights could be installed all over the lots, creating a solar star field, or all over the house, creating a star house.”
The piece begat another piece – one written by Team Detroit chief creative officer and novelist Toby Barlow for the New York Times – which begat an avalanche of media attention all over the world.
In 2010, California-based art magazine Juxtapoz contributed to the project by sending six artists to live and help transform houses on Moran St. – a half block north of the Power House at Lawley and Moran – which brought more attention and more redevelopment to the neighborhood.
Now, six years after it launched, the fruits of the project are increasingly visible throughout this community calling itself Banglatown, where ethnic Bangladeshis, Eastern Europeans, African Americans and creative young people are all part of the groundwork of neighborhood reconstruction that seems equal parts intentional and organic in nature.
“It’s gotten to a point where people I don’t know are moving into the neighborhood, doing independent work and becoming a productive part of the community,” Reichert says, sitting in her office in the Yellow House, one of several residential dwellings affiliated with Power House Productions. “This is a great sign that it’s working on its own, and that we don’t have our hand in overseeing everything.”
The Yellow House, like others in the neighborhood – the Jar House, the Squash House, the Sound House, the Play House and the Power House itself – are all part of Power House Productions’ nonprofit organization. Also part of the nonprofit: the planned Skate House and the still in progress Ride it Sculpture Park, on the northern end of the community at the Davison Freeway between Klinger and Gallagher streets.
The Write a House project, launched by Barlow and Curbed Detroit editor Sarah Cox in 2013, is in the same neighborhood though not affiliated with Power House. Likewise,Burnside Farm – which is in the process of building a greenhouse adjacent to its property – and the studio of the Right Brothers, video and film producers who have worked with hip hop artists Passalacqua (one of its members lives on Burnside St.) and others are located here but independent of the nonprofit. The Zimbabwe Cultural Centre of Detroit, run by artist Chido Johnson, is also here.
Reichert and Cope also operate Design 99, which focuses on Reichert’s architectural practice – which became known for its $99 consultation fees – and Cope’s art projects, which have been exhibited in Europe, major U.S. cities and Detroit. The for-profit company started in a storefront on Jos. Campau in Hamtramck before occupying a space on Caniff, also in Hamtramck. That space later became the exhibition and performance gallery Public Pool.
Though related, Reichert points out that Power House and Design 99 are quite separate entities. “People confuse the two, but the best way to tell the difference is that Power House is a nonprofit, and where our grant-writing and neighborhood projects are based.”
The most recent activity coming from the Power House side of Reichert and Cope’s creative efforts is the Carpenter Exchange, a collaborative project with other artists and community builders on both sides of Carpenter – the street that borders Hamtramck on its northern edge and the Banglatown neighborhood in Detroit.
The project received a $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for a series of creative placemaking events over an 18 month period. Other partners in the grant are the Hinterlands, a performance arts group that uses the Play House as its home base; Carrie Morris Arts Production, a story-telling and performance arts group currently redeveloping a house on the western end of Carpenter; Popps Packing, an arts studio and venue on the corner of St. Aubin and Carpenter; and the Work Department, an open-source programming and development studio on Yemans St. in Hamtramck; and the city of Hamtramck.
Part of the Carpenter Exchange includes the two-day Porous Borders Festival planned for May 2015. The event will extend along the entire 2-square mile border of Hamtramck with Detroit (a tiny piece borders Highland Park and railroad tracks that cut through the city near its southern edge technically belong to Canada) and feature open-air performances, art installations and food vendors. The festival is being organized by the Hinterlands.
Power House is also a finalist for a Knight Arts Challenge Grant seeking additional funding to celebrate the diversity of arts and culture in Banglatown.
Reichert and Cope are not only staying busy with Power House and Design 99 but are raising a daughter, Eva, now in preschool at the Merrill Palmer Early Childhood Center in Midtown.
“We’re working all the time on neighborhood projects for Power House, but sometimes forget we have our other work (design, art, family) that needs to get done,” Reichert says. “It’s hard work but it’s also fun. The goal for Power House is to get our neighborhood ready for living. Just that. So it is no longer ‘a project place’ but a place where people will want to simply move in and live. We’re seeing this happen now, and it’s pretty awesome.”
All photos by Doug Coombe.
This story originally appeared in Urban Innovation Exchange here.