Former Jail Cells Become Artists Studios in Efforts to Revive Detroit

Detroit's Former Third Precinct

Can a space that was built to discipline and detain be a space that fosters creativity? For the artists and administrators at Detroit’s decade-old 555 Nonprofit Gallery and Studios, the answer is a resounding yes. This year, the arts organization relocated to a rather unconventional new home, even by artist studio standards: a former police precinct station.

When nonprofit community developer Southwest Housing Solutions decided to lease the Detroit Police Department’s former Third Precinct station to 555 (the building’s garage, meanwhile, has been converted into a local gardening, farming, and landscape supply store) the goal was to keep a central landmark in one of Detroit’s stronger neighborhoods alive. Vacancy, as Detroit well knows, is a dangerous thing for a city. For now, the effort to revitalize the building has meant putting artists in 5-by-9-foot jail cells — bars still included.

A Banksy mural in the main lobby

But for Southwest Housing Solutions executive director Tim Thorland, “The great thing about the gallery space is that it’s a continuous work in progress,” as he told the Associated Press. This means locker rooms in the precinct may become future dance studios; gyms can become performance spaces; cells can function as dressing rooms and box offices; a detective’s office might be the perfect darkroom. For the local artists community, the entire building is filled with potential for adaptive reuse. It is a living work of art.

An official opening event for the new 555 is scheduled for September 14.

- Kelly Chan