Press Release: Artists Demand Neighborhood Concerns be Addressed not Painted Over by Fiat Chrysler “Art Project”

For Immediate Release
Feb. 18, 2020

Artist Contact:
Halima Cassells

Resident Contact:
Gregg Newsom

Artists Demand Neighborhood Concerns be Addressed not Painted Over by Fiat Chrysler “Art Project”
Funding needed for home repair, not for artists who aren’t necessarily residents

DETROIT— Local artists have released a strong statement in response to the launch of the City of Detroit and Fiat Chrysler’s (FCA) global call for artists to paint “the largest municipal art installation in the city’s history.” The statement, which has quickly gained supporting signatures from prominent Detroit artists, charges that the city and FCA are using art to cover up the negative impacts of Fiat Chrysler’s Eastside expansion.

The artist statementreads; “Fiat Chrysler and The City of Detroit (City Walls and Arts and Culture Office) are attempting to use murals and artists to artwash and cover up the destruction of a neighborhood on the Eastside by the expansion of the Fiat Chrysler America (FCA) Facility.”

Sydney G. James, an international fine art muralist from Detroit’s Conant Gardens, said she signed the statement because, “I recognize that muralists and street artists are often used as weapons of mass gentrification. I make it a point to truly engage community wherever I work. And my work is reflective of community. Corporations and developers need to be conscious of the people, and these neighbors deserve to be treated with respect and have their voices heard, and needs met.”

In February of 2019, FCA announced the expansion of the Mack Ave. and Jefferson North plants. This privately-owned mega-project will receive over $400 million in public funds and incentives over the next 30 years. The scale of public investment in the project triggered the city’s Community Benefits Ordinance.

As part of the FCA CBA the residents who live closest to FCA’s new assembly line and paint plant have been given priority to apply for $15,000 in home repair grants, which residents have found is not enough to cover the repairs needed or additional damage to homes from nearby construction.

“I just had new windows installed and now, after all the pounding from the construction they no longer seal up” shared Victoria Thomas, who now lives in the morning shadow of the plant.

Last month, on January 30, 2020, at a meeting on the Community Benefits Ordinance hosted by the Legislative Policy Division (LPD), residents from the street closest to the project presented a list of demands. The “Just Beniteau Residents” demands call on the city and FCA to do what it will take to make residents homes safe to breathe and live in and to address the extensive damage being done to homes during construction.

“This process has been nothing but legal trickery used by people who think we can be walked over and dismissed” said Robert Shobe who has lived on the street for 24 years and wants to stay. He and other Beniteau residents demanded a meeting with Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. “The Mayor made us feel as though we didn’t matter and didn’t hear us or our legitimate concerns. We appreciate artists supporting us in the fight to be heard by the Mayor and FCA and for this to be made right.”


Just Beniteau Residents Statement and Demands

Detroit People’s Platform supports the hard work of the Just Beniteau Residents. The group has been meeting frequently since last year to address their unanswered concerns and demands around the public funded Fiat Chrysler expansion.

Many of the residents in the group have lived there since the 1960s. Some are third generation residents. Some have lived there their whole life. They all have a real love for their homes and incredible love for their community. They have been disrespected and dismissed by Mayor Duggan and Fiat Chrysler. 

On January 30, 2020 residents presented these demands through public comment at a meeting hosted by the Legislative Policy Division(LPD) on amendments to the Community Benefits Ordinance. 

‘Just Beniteau Residents’
Statement and Demands, January 28, 2020

The Just Beniteau Residents group represents the majority of people who live on our street. We believe that Beniteau Residents have been violated by the City and Fiat Chrysler through the Community Benefits process.

The Neighborhood Advisory Council did not represent us or respond to our needs. To many of us they seemed to just take what was offered and said it was what we wanted. No one seems to know how they decided on $15,000 a house.

The projects impact on our health and quality of life were not given priority. Even though the city has, and had at the time, a program for Southwest Detroit to fix up homes to make them safe to live in, none of this information was presented to us.

It’s worse than they said it would be and getting even worse every day. Our foundations are being further damaged by the vibrations from construction and increased truck traffic. Windows that were solid before construction are now damaged and won’t seal. The dust is horrible and all this before the new paint plant is putting out increased pollution. It’s bad and these are the things we want to make this right:

We need More Money. $15,000 is not enough to make the repairs to our homes that are needed to make them safe. We want our foundations repaired, new roofs and windows, central air and furnaces, all certified for air quality. There are a few who would consider relocation, if provided enough money to do so successfully, but the great majority of us want to stay.

We want the program expanded to reflect number of units in multifamily buildings. There are multi-family structures, duplexes, on the street and we want resources for repairs in each unit.

We want to be treated with respect. In the past, people in our area have been bought out and relocated respectfully. We have not been heard and the city and FCA have disrespected us by disregarding our legitimate concerns, saying their hands are tied while giving more tax incentives to Chrysler and others.

We want the city and FCA to Fix Beniteau First! Before this flawed home repair program is opened up to the residents in the rest of the impact area the residents on Beniteau need this to be fixed and made right by the city and Fiat Chrysler.

For Beniteau residents this process has been nothing but legal trickery used by people who think we can be walked over and dismissed. The Fiat Chrysler Community Benefits ­not benefiting in any way. Just Beniteau Residents demand that Detroit City Council work to change this for us and to stop this from happening to other Detroiters.