Burning With Inspiration
"I'm invested in the city, and I plan to stay invested in the city," intones Cynthia Jones without a shred of hesitation or pomposity as she speaks with great pride of her 10 years as a resident of Northwest Detroit.
But it's not just the 313 area code that has Jones making claims of deep-rooted investment in Detroit, it's the long list of community-oriented commitments that make the point. There's her day job as manager of The Henry Ford's Ford Rouge Factory Tour
, her involvement as our regional contact for the Burning Man project, her avid support of local arts, and her future as a part-time educational beekeeper. (Talk about the perfect setup for a terribly cheesy "busy as a bee" pun
And really, it's the dichotomy between these seemingly disparate focuses that defines Jones as the "artist in community" that she happily declares herself to be. Repping the Rouge
Jones recalls with a smile the years-ago meeting. She was taking notes and someone brought up a potential project with The Ford Motor Company
called The Rouge. "I was like, 'OK, I want to stay on this project,'" she says. "So I've literally been with The Rouge project since it was a drawing on paper. And it's been incredible to watch it transform."
As manager of The Ford Rouge Factory Tour, a gig she describes as "the best job in Detroit," Jones essentially acts as a liaison between two worlds. One foot is planted on the profit-driven factory floor. The other shuffles silently down the halls of historical entertainment. "I consider it translation," says Jones. "I get to translate the corporate world to the museum folks, and the museum folks to the corporate world and that's just really fun."
The Rouge Factory Tour is an interactive experience that, as she explains, "combines innovation and manufacturing with history and green architecture." There are six areas to the tour: Two theaters (one of which is 'in-the-round', as in surrounded by screens, with physical effects timed to the presentation), a third-of-a-mile walk through the final assembly section of the Dearborn truck plant
, an observation deck where visitors can view the world's largest living roof (an attraction that requires Jones to ask of herself: "How do I make porous pavement interesting?"), the Legacy Gallery, which features the history of vehicles that have been built in The Rouge, and a seasonal outdoor tour through the living laboratory
, which winds through orchards, bee hives, and wetlands.
Jones' passion for this project is palpable, and her ability to successfully negotiate the financial difficulties inherent in working with such a hard-hit industry demonstrates her finesse and savvy.
But let's not forget, in the face of all of her corporate acumen: This woman is a true-blue Burner.Burn, baby, burn
When I spoke with Jones, she had just returned from San Francisco, after attending a quasi-annual gathering that the Burning Man
organization hosts to facilitate arts leadership development. As a regional contact for Detroit, Jones gathers with her fellow Burners (she'll be attending her 15th Burning Man festival later this year) to discuss what our community is doing, talk up her involvement with this summer's Maker Faire Detroit
and "promote and share all of the amazing things that are happening here."
Jones describes the weekend in gush: "They invite 100 leaders from all over the world that are involved in Burning Man and help build ongoing, year-round regional communities for Burning Man. There are people from Australia, Europe, Canada, and all over the U.S. And it's an odd combination because it is a normal leadership development conference you know, we do conflict resolution, and managing and supporting volunteers, regular learning sessions combined with touring art spaces and art projects and participating in community development work. I come home every year and my brain is flooded."
And it's this type of unique inspiration, this tempest of ideas that has Jones spilling her passions into Detroit (a city in which the moniker "Burner" must be carefully explained). Her Burning brainwaves inject themselves not just into her work with The Ford Rouge Factory and the Maker Faire, but also her overall sense of community. It's this inspiration that helps her to find "beauty in the grit" of our fair city.Compounding interest
"You know," Jones explains, "my neighborhood is struggling, and that can get to you. The house next door to me was firebombed a year and a half ago on MLK day, so I woke up to a burned-out house with a couch hanging out the window. And it's the kind of thing that just makes you choose, 'How is today gonna go? What am I gonna do about this today?'
But Jones remains undeterred. In her world every problem has a creative solution.
"It's really interesting because I've been collecting trash in my neighborhood discarded things and I've been painting them gold. And one of the things I wanna do with this is create an urban dream catcher. Kind of that whole concept of taking what looks like ugly nastiness and turning it into something beautiful that will hopefully inspire people to look at their neighborhood differently."
It's this type of commitment to community that proves Jones' investment in Detroit is undoubtedly a sound one. Quick to declare that she herself is no artist, Jones has realized over the years that she has the special ability to foster organized creativity.
"I figured out that while I may not be an artist - in the sense that I can't draw to save my life - I am an artist in figuring out how to see who might benefit from being connected. I would love to be able to look back and say that I was able to influence people into having creative conversations - into having really amazing creative people talking to really amazing entrepreneurial people - and that I could be a catalyst in that. I care enough about art to build art in my community, to then build community around the art."
Kirk Vanderbeek is a freelance writer and film reviewer for Real
Detroit Weekly. His previous article for Metromode was Solid Dudes In The Kitchen.Send comments here.All Photographs © Marvin Shaouni Photography
Contact Marvin here
Cynthia Jones outside the Ford Rogue Factory
Ford Rogue Factory's living roof
A retrospective of Ford vehicles
Ford's truck assembly plant
Hand written postcards tell of a fun time spent at the Ford Rogue Factory Tour