Transforming Hostel Detroit, one mural at a time

It’s amazing to think Hostel Detroit, the city’s first hostel in 15 years, has only been open since April. The busy home-away-from-home for adventurous international, national and regional travelers on a budget has already become a potent symbol of Detroit’s entrepreneurial, welcoming spirit and its strong sense of community.

The hostel (an early 20th century red brick building in North Corktown) is also in the process of becoming something of an artistic landmark. Two weeks ago, members of the international design collective Monorex conceived and painted a bi-level mural on the building’s back wall, and this weekend, a team of volunteers is going to brixelate its south-facing wall. (Community-made brixel murals are the brainchild of local artist Cedric Tai, though they’re mostly managed and executed by volunteers these days. Click here for a closer look at the brixels project.)

Ayaka Hibino and Joe Lalonde are the two members of the service-based learning organization Arts Corps Detroit who are overseeing the hostel’s brixel project. Hibino said the hostel was an easy choice for a brixel mural, since it’s part of a tight-knit community and actively promotes the city’s art to its guests. She also made an analogy between the brixel process, which involves painting individual bricks one at a time, and the hostel’s transformative power to change perceptions of Detroit person by person.

I interviewed Michel Soucisse, the hostel’s general manager and an artist himself, and asked him why he wants to turn the exterior of the hostel into public art.

Michel Soucisse:  One of the most important (but maybe not evident) reasons for having the exterior of the hostel decorated, if you will, is the visibility it gives us. We want to showcase the variety and richness of the different artistic projects and perspectives in the community, to be sure, but we also want our guests, visitors who are coming from all over the world, to be able to locate us easily. Since Hostel Detroit is lucky enough to sit among North Corktown’s large expanses of open space, those arriving on foot (most of our guests walk from the train/bus station) will be able to see the murals and, therefore, the hostel from blocks away. Just yesterday, a guest said when she saw the Monorex piece from the bus stop, she knew she was in the right place.

Matthew Piper:  Can you talk a bit about your experience working with Monorex? How much creative freedom did they have to design and execute their mural? What do you think of what they made?

MS: Those guys were the absolute tops. They were so excited about the city and the hostel and about making their mark in such a new, energetic place. After a brief conversation, I decided to give Joe [Holbrock, the artist], Terry [Guy, Monorex’s founder] and Eric [Moss, the project director] full creative control. I didn’t want to micromanage them in any sense. These guys knew what they were doing. I set them up and let them run with it, and I’m very happy with the result. They’ll be working on the building again this September, which is exciting. Like many of our guests so far, they said they weren’t done with the city or the hostel, and are definitely planning on coming back. We’re looking forward to that.

MP:  What attracted you to idea of the hostel becoming a home for brixels?

MS: The hostel seemed an ideal building for this type of project because of its surface. I love that we can, in a sense, capitalize on the hostel’s history and its modest, plain-Jane façade. It’s a beautiful building — it just needs to pop. It wants to distinguish itself. I was immediately taken with the brixels the very first time I saw them. The fact that Ayaka, Joe and Cedric are such vibrant, wonderful artists is simply the cherry on top. I love the way they accentuate the already-existing patterns, not only of the bricks, but of the history of the building. For example, some doors and windows were at some point bricked in during the building’s lifetime. How those ghosts will interfere/interact with the strict tessellation pattern will create something unpredictable and will ultimately reveal something which was once hidden. Now we’re having fun!

MP:  Any forthcoming plans for other walls?

MS:  We have one more in the early planning stages. A wonderful, well-known local designer working on a delightful, interactive mural, which I can’t wait for. Unfortunately, I can’t give you any more details, so stay tuned. But there’s plenty more wall space….

Hostel Detroit is located at 2700 Vermont St.;

*    *    *This is my last post as KnightArts’ Detroit blogger. It’s been a pleasure and privilege to help bring the incredible story of art in Detroit to a wider audience these past few months. Thanks for reading! Look forward to more coverage from Knight Arts’ next Detroit blogger, Vanessa Miller.