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Reveal Your Detroit

5200 Woodward Ave
Detroit, Michigan 48202

Bradford Frost

By MJ Galbraith
March 3, 2014

By the time Bradford Frost finished his year-long tenure serving in Americorps, he knew was going to pursue social justice issues in the United States, both in historical terms and how those issues affect opportunity today. That didn't change when he went to the University of Mary Washington and it didn't change when he studied abroad in Switzerland and South Africa. It certainly didn't change when he was chosen as one of ten for a United Way of America fellowship. By then, his focus grew to include community development and opportunity.
Frost arrived in Detroit on his year-long fellowship in 2005. The city's popular narrative has changed a lot since then—certainly so on a national level. This was before the Super Bowl saved downtown or urban farming saved the neighborhoods or Dan Gilbert saved downtown. Frost was born and raised in Essex, Connecticut and then later lived in northern Virginia. He was no stranger to Detroit's national image.
"I had something of a partially mass media-driven, single narrative about the city in my head that felt entirely inadequate," says Frost. "It was very negative, very race-based, very crime-driven, and I felt it must be wrong. But it was so single-framed that I wanted to come and see it for myself and work in this environment and live here."
Frost came and served his year-long fellowship with the United Way. And then he stayed another year. And then another. Despite two years away at graduate school—and even then he knew he wanted to come back six weeks into his first semester—Frost has been here ever since.
One of his most tangible accomplishments is his work with the Detroit Institute of Arts, pushing the boundaries of their community engagement and helping make the DIA a more inviting place for everyone, from downtown to the furthest neighborhoods. Frost helped transform the DIA's Kresge Court from an under-utilized cafe and banquet space to the Cultural Living Room it is today.
It took some doing, but Frost also convinced the DIA to embrace Reveal Your Detroit, an amateur photography exhibit—amateur art of any kind is not something major art institutions typically embrace. After handing out point-and-click cameras to a number of community groups, over 10,000 photographs were submitted from all over the city. The Detroit Public Library cataloged over 2,000 of those photographs and the DIA curated a special exhibition, drawing people into the museum and allowing them to feel attached in a way that they hadn't before. Wayne State University Press liked the exhibit so much that they offered to print a book version.
"If on my first day on the job I would've said to the museum, 'We're going to transform a public space, we're going to put on a public display of community-based art and write a book that commemorates that,' I think I would have been run out of the institution," says Frost.
Frost is now making changes at other Detroit community groups. He helped shepherd the change at Declare Detroit as it shifted from a community organizing and networking effort to a Political Action Committee that endorses candidates all over the city. He says the group favors candidates that are problem solvers, not finger pointers. Seven out of the ten candidates the group endorsed won the 2013 general election.
In January of 2014, Frost was named the director of the Detroit Corridor Initiative, formerly known as the Woodward Corridor Initiative. The group is looking to align with the seven commercial districts as named by Detroit Future City, taking the work they accomplished in the Woodward corridor and spreading it to other parts of the city.
"It's about trying to really accelerate opportunity on a larger basis and figuring out a way—from my view, anyway—that the transformation in greater downtown, the transformation of any of these commercial districts is an inclusive one that really celebrates the diversity that Detroit already has and encourages that as part of the long-term vision for the way we create higher-density districts and communities and encourage economic mobility for low income populations that choose to live here or are connected to these job centers and live in the neighborhoods."

All photos by Doug Coombe. 

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