Urban Art Tours of Detroit: A Smart Phone Application

Urban Art Tours of Detroit: A Smart Phone Application

  • Nikki Horowitz
  • Schuyler Hamill
  • Xintong Zhu

Requested Amount:  $5,500

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 4 Months

Describe your Project: 500 words

We would like to create a mobile urban art docent.  This will take form as an app for smart phones, which locates urban art in cities and then takes users on a guided art tour throughout the city.  The city we would like to focus on first is Detroit. Detroit has a unique combination of 20th century architecture cloaked in history and high amounts of vacancy. This combination provides an ideal canvas for artists to symbolically portray the tumultuous transition of Detroit’s economy from a thriving global auto hub to it’s recent bankruptcy filing.  This application will also provide widespread recognition for Detroit’s various social and civil struggles, including the race riots of the 70’s and the ensuing white flight.  The “ruins” of Detroit are more than just a story of struggle- it’s about the journey of thousands of people overcoming through social, political, and environmental challenges.  Their stories have been told through urban art, including street art, graffiti, and underground art collectives/shows.

The application takes you on tour, providing audio information about the artist, the message of the artwork, and context to the surrounding environment. It will provide entertainment for users as well as raise awareness about the hidden gems of Detroit. By raising awareness of urban art through this application we will be able to strengthen and preserve this growing organic art community in Detroit.

There are a variety of tours one could take through this application.  Tours of a single artists feature important, iconic artists of Detroit, promoting their work and telling an individual story of a local hero.  Tours of an art genre including murals, graffiti, houses, or architecture gives the audience an understanding of a specific art form.  For example, the architecture tour would bring you to the buildings designed by famous architects like Albert Kahn or Frank Lloyd Wright.   Tours of a specific neighborhood give the viewer an understanding of a part of the large city.  Each neighborhood, Corktown, Midtown, Downtown, Hamtramck, Grand River, and Riverfront have a different story to tell about their past history, and where they are heading to rebuild Detroit.  You can also design your own tour, selecting the places you want to go, and press start.  Connected with a GPS system, you will be provided with directions to and from the artwork.  You can also choose to go on the weeks trending locations, new artworks, featured tours, or the users top picks.  Each artwork is provided with an image, and an audio description from the artist, which allows the user of the app to get a first hand description of what the given piece represents.

Users can also upload photos and locations of new artwork they find on street, as well as old, well-known places, providing reviews and opinions.   There’s also a section where people can post art events and collaborations with time and date.  There are many new art groups who would love to advertise their shows on the application.


What unmet need does your product meet? 200 words

First we need to locate roughly fifty of the best urban art pieces in Detroit. Next, we need to talk and network with the local artists who created each piece in order to record the artists intended message for the piece and the story surrounding the given piece. Then we will program and develop the actual application with help from computer science students at U of M. The key components of the application being: GPS mapping capabilities, audio tour capabilities, the ability for users to upload new art, user flexibility in designing a tour, and the ability for local businesses to advertise. Then we need to  raise awareness about the application through existing channels at U of Michigan, the Penny Stamps School of Art and Design, art galleries in Detroit, and art centers such as Cranbrook in the surrounding suburbs. Finally, once we acquire a sufficient amount of users, we will seek out local businesses that may be interested in advertising their products or services on our application. These businesses will most likely be local restaurants, retail shops, and art galleries in relative proximity to the art pieces on the tour.

Interview four potential users of your product about this unmet need. Do not tell them about your idea. Just explore their need. What did you learn? Include names and contact info for interviewees and a few words describing each — age, gender, occupation, town where of residence. Go for variety. 200 words

– Anita Gonzalez- amanjo@umich.edu, female, age late 50s, professor at U of M in Theater and African American Studies, Ann Arbor

  • Shes very interested in urban art. She believes you can transform and save a neighborhood completely by immersing it in the arts.  She connected this to the block in Manhattan that the theater company La Mama is on, where the arts feed each other while sustaining a historical reservation.  She believes outside groups are coming in and supporting art and sustainability. Detroit is prime for development, but its a long term process.   She thinks creating an arts application would be fantastic to collaborate with the Dhive.

– Laura Pazuchowski- pazulama@gmail.com, female, 26, works at Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Recent graduate of Art and Design School at U of M

  • Thinks that the art scene in Detroit is growing and that its a great place for young artist to move because of the cheap cost of living there.  She informed me of Public Pool Artspace, a network of artists and events, as well as http://www.kresgeartsindetroit.org, a website where you can invest in a Detroit artist.  After telling her our application idea, she said that these artist would be great to collaborate with and showcase.

Timothy Webb- webbt@umich.edu  male, academic advisor at the University of Michigan.

  • Tim is very knowledgeable on the current issues surrounding detroit and is very interested in the future of the city. He thinks this application could be a great way for students, especially those from other states, to explore what detroit has to offer.

– Feng Lu<fenglu@google.com>,male,students at University of Illinois in mathematics studies

  • He is not interested with the urban art of Detroit, because he never knew the graffiti art before. From his response, I realize the spreading of graffiti art to foreign students is very important. Feng is not interested in graffiti, because he was never exposed to it. Feng is just a representation of foreign students, however we should expose it to those who find urban art foreign.

How big is the potential market for your idea? Mention sources for any statistics you use. 100 words

Our application can be marketed towards native Detroiters, tourists, university and high school students, urban adventurers, international visitors, or  anyone interested in Detroit’s urban art scene. Elementary and high schools could use this app on a field trip to educate the students on the economy and society.  People living in the surrounding suburbs of Detroit will gain a new outlook by exploring the hidden gems of this unique city.  This is an opportunity to get out of your everyday routine and expose yourself to something new and exciting, stimulating the curiosity of the arts.

How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors – 200 words

            Many art museums and galleries, such as the Chicago Institute of Art, have applications similar to our proposed idea, providing information and context about pieces to visitors. We are taking this existing idea and applying it to a more diverse audience and a broader geographical area.  This application will also be offered for free, which essentially turns the entire city of Detroit into an art gallery with free admission.  By applying an existing idea to an entire city and making it free to use our idea becomes revolutionarily innovative. As of today, there is no application taking users on a guided tour of a city’s urban artwork. Our closest competitor would be Detroit Experience Factory, a tour guide company providing customers with information about the best restaurants in Detroit, the history of Detroit, and generally the current culture of Detroit. Another competitor, Art House Lectures and Tours Inc., provides cultural, architectural, and art deco tours of various regions in Detroit. However, neither of these competitors provide tours of the urban artwork in Detroit. It would be great to partner with them.

How will your idea be financially sustainable? 150 words

This application has three potential options for financial sustainability. First, the application would be sustained financially through advertisements on the application. Businesses will want to advertise on our application because the users of this application will likely want to grab a bite to eat or explore a local shop while on the tour. We would propose advertising agreements with restaurants, shops, and art galleries in close proximity to the pieces of artwork on the various tours.  Advertising allows us to provide the application as a free download, which is pivotal in generating a sufficient amount of users for the application. If we obtain a strong threshold of users our second option for financial sustainability would be to charge a minimal fee for downloading the application. Lastly we could charge  the artists a fee for promoting their work on our application.

Why are you and your team the right people to develop this project?  100 words

  • Nikki is a native New Yorker and visual artist.  She specializes in social media connections, arts, and producing, so she can photograph the work, design the interface and communicate with our audience.  She can curate featured materials and filter out trash on the application.
  • Sky was born and raised in metro Detroit, providing him with knowledge of the different Detroit neighborhoods and their unique socio-economic challenges. He also has entrepreneurial experience running a landscaping service in the metro detroit area. His knowledge of what the city was and what the city could be fuels his passion for developing this application.
  • Xintong is a mathematician, who can create statistics on user popularity and research locations and specifications of each work of art. As an international student, she is an advocate to spread awareness of the potential of Detroit to those who know little about it.

About Nikki Horowitz

Nikki Horowitz, a native New Yorker, is currently a senior BFA Interarts Performance major at the University of Michigan, enrolled in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and the Penny Stamps School of Art & Design. She is an inspiring creative artist, focused on photography, videography, art directing, directing, producting, journalism and film/theatre production.

6 Responses to “Urban Art Tours of Detroit: A Smart Phone Application”

  1. This sounds like a really cool application; I’d take these tours. I think people might be interested in donating to the artists, venues, or app, too – a paypal-assisted portal or something could be good. It could be interesting to incorporate a forums section separate from the events page you suggested, where people find others who want to take the same tours they do or some kind of expert speaks a bit about an urban art site familiar to them.

  2. Hi all!

    This sounds like a really cool idea and I think this is a perfect application for Detroit! My comment applies to the “what unmet need does your project meet?” section. With the excitement surrounding Detroit’s newest economic developments, I think this application can bring popularity and publicity to some of Detroit’s often under-highlighted sector. I think having a specific “Places you should visit” or a page where people could review and suggest their favorite places would really help to diversify the application. Also, listing relevant landmarks (Detroit Historical Tours, The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History) would be helpful and engaging for users who may not have specific landmarks in mind or may not know where to start in picking tour locations.

  3. First of all, I love the idea of making art more accessible to those who aren’t necessarily integrated enough in the art community to know about openings or where to see art. It is also awesome that you focus on Detroit, because art is flourishing there currently. Personally I don’t think it is necessarily to have the audio bites about the artwork, especially if you are going to include graffiti because many of those artists are unknown. It might also be interesting to consider teaming up with some of the galleries downtown, or having alerts that would tell you if you were getting close to a piece of art. I really do love the idea, Detroit’s art is so unique, and is often forgotten with these constant images of “ruin porn” and I think your app could really draw people to the city and into its art community. Great Job!

  4. After spending most of my summer in and around Detroit, I would have loved something like this to help guide my adventures! I think you’ve got a lot of really wonderful ideas. This would help to rebuild Detroit pride by showcasing all of the amazing local talent. However, as an ‘app’ it is missing a huge chunk of people that do not have smart phones, so maybe considering an online version of /counterpart to the app as well so that people without smart phones can still participate. Other than that, I think this is a very useful tool for self-guided art tours!

  5. Strong work, Urban Art Tours team. I especially like the way you describe this as a museum audio tour taken to the streets and expanded. Great explanation. I agree with the others who see an audience for your idea. You could say more about how you will market it. Also, I’m pretty sure that I’ve heard about architecture tour apps in other cities. That would be a similar idea. Frank Arvan is an architect based in Royal Oak, Michigan who also stages museum exhibits. He’s the former president of the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Please contact him, get some feedback from him and see if he knows of any architecture tour apps in other cities. Then see what lessons you can learn from those apps. What do they do well, and not so well? How many users do they attract? How? Again, good idea here. I look forward to seeing how it continues to evolve.

  6. One more thought: Jennifer Conlin, a journalist based in Ann Arbor who frequently writes for the New York Times, won a Knight Challenge grant a couple of years ago to kick off a different project related to art in Detroit. Check it out, talk to Jennifer, and see if she has any suggestions for you about pitfalls to avoid etc. Here’s the link to her project: http://www.jenniferconlin.com/JenniferConlinNewCriticCar.htm

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