“How can it be an arts renaissance,” Detroit artist Adam Shirley asks, “when it’s been here all along?”


Detroit—just like any other city—has its flaws: negligible public transit and a lack of law enforcement to name a few. But the Motor City gets a particularly bad rap despite all it has to offer. Its art scene, for instance, is flourishing. While visiting the city this week to meet some of the artists behind new Buick models, I got the chance to visit a few artists’ studios to see how space influences their creative energies.


Space defines Detroit. The city is filled with affordable, open spaces, which lure in the creative types. Shirley sets up shop in the old Russell factory, a massive artist compound where inspiration lines the concrete corridors. Having that open, collaborative space affords Shirley the room he needs to construct his three dimensional objects.


But the city lacks density, so its urban center feels as though it’s missing something—the something that keeps it from becoming a top U.S. city. Walking around downtown, the streets seem empty compared to Washington, D.C., and they feel like an absolute ghost town compared to its midwestern neighbor Chicago.


But the potential is there and art galleries such as Re:View, where Shirley’s work is currently displayed, are thriving. If the Motor City can figure out how to harness all that space and creative energy, it may give New York a reason to glance in its rearview mirror.