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Critic Car lets Detroiters share their opinions about art

Detroit is flush with art and artists. We have one of the largest theater districts in the country … one of the top six museum collections in the United States … a vibrant history as the birthplace of Motown and Techno music … and an energetic new population of young artists and creative people migrating to our city and region.

574703_268869759871986_1623696056_nThat local art scene is a cornerstone of the economic revival of Detroit. Detroiters love their art … paintings, sculptures, plays … anything and everything that is art. Their opinions and reviews of all that is art are important, but how to share them?

Ahhh… now we have Critic Car Detroit. The Critic Car Detroit team, led by journalist Jennifer Conlin, crisscrosses our city, stopping at all kinds of events, large and small, allowing many of the under-the-radar performances to be showcased right along those that are more well-known. The team captures citizen reviews on an iPad. In short, it takes the classic “man-on-the-street” reviews and repackages them for 21st century social media.

That’s right – you can tell the world how you feel about a play, concert, art gallery opening, festival or other event Critic Car covers. You can check out the Critic Car Facebook page to see what they’ve covered or look for them on YouTube.

Critic Car has the potential to introduce museum-goers to experimental theatre and rock-and-roll fans to chamber music. In short, it will help the arts organizations in Detroit maintain and grow their audiences and give show goers a look at the most interesting places to go.

Critic Car Detroit is now featured every week on the new weekly DPTV show, Detroit Performs, which tells the stories of artists working in a variety of disciplines and arts organizations throughout the region. The idea, DPTV says, is “to reveal the artistic process and how it might inspire others to pick up a paintbrush, see a performance or discover a personal muse.” Critic Car Detroit’s reviews will be featured each week.

Critic Car Detroit has come a long way since the idea started germinating in Conlin’s mind after she wrote 36 Hours In Detroit for The New York Times two years ago. That article quickly became the most e-mailed article on The New York Times website.

A native of Ann Arbor, she had just returned after 20 years working abroad in London, Brussels, Paris and Cairo. She was a freelance writer for the New York Times travel and style sections, while her husband worked for Reuters. What brought them back to Michigan was the impending revolution in Egypt.

“Though as journalists we would have loved to stay and cover the Arab Spring, as the parents of three then teenage children we thought it might be best to give that news story a miss,” she said.

When she got back home she decided to write “36 Hours in Detroit.” Researching that article gave Conlin a new appreciation for Detroit and Detroiters.

“As someone who loves cities it was so obvious to me how hard Detroiters were working to save their city,” she said. “What was so obvious to me as a reporter was the passion among Detroiters for the city’s history, its cultural heritage, its legacy of innovation and now its whole edgy urban vibe that was making it a cool modern city.”’

Not only did she see people who have lived in the city and weren’t going to give up no matter what challenges the city faced, she found a whole group of young artists and entrepreneurs who came to Detroit because of its affordability and endless opportunities. She wanted to get their stories out, but in a new way.

Critic Car Detroit was the answer. The team has been traversing Detroit, iPad in hand, asking people for their opinions.

“Very few people have turned us down,” Conlin said. “Children, in particular, love the camera. Everyone has had interesting, thought-provoking comments that have been fun to include.

“One thing I did not anticipate was how much people would want to speak about Detroit in general. Unlike other cities where I suspect audience members might speak more directly about the event they have just seen, here everyone is keen to also support the city and tell people to come visit.”

Noel Coward once said, “I love criticism just so long as it’s unqualified praise.” What I love about Critic Car is that it is run by Conlin, a journalist who won’t let “unqualified praise” just happen.  Critic Car is not a promotional or propaganda tool. It will tell it like it is … good and bad from the eyes of those who have seen the events and those who have seen the real Detroit.

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