Detroit Artists Paint Town Orange to Force Change A group of artists in Detroit have been painting dilapidated houses a bright shade of orange. The project, called "Object Orange," is an attempt to draw attention to the buildings and to get the city to tear them down or repair them. City officials say the group's activities are criminal.
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Detroit Artists Paint Town Orange to Force Change

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Detroit Artists Paint Town Orange to Force Change

Detroit Artists Paint Town Orange to Force Change

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Among hunters, wearing orange sends a clear message: Don't shoot. Joggers wear the color as a plea to motorists: Don't run me over. Now in Detroit, a group of artists calling themselves Object Orange are using the color to highlight hundreds of abandoned and derelict buildings - and their message to onlookers: Pay attention. Detroit Public Radio's Celeste Headlee has this report.

CELESTE HEADLEE: It can take hours for this group of artists to coat a building's fa├žade in vivid paint. The color is called Tiggerific Orange, from the Disney series of house paint, and about five gallons will do the job on most homes.

Object Orange started almost accidentally last summer, when three local artists were driving through Detroit and saw an isolated house that was ramshackle at best.

Mr. MIKE(ph) (Artist, Object Orange) It had been abandoned. It had been set on fire. People were using it for a dumping ground. It was in pretty bad shape.

HEADLEE: That's Mike. The artists have asked to be identified by first names only. The trio sat in their car for a while, contemplating the ruin, and then they decided to do something. They returned that night and painted it orange.

Mr. MIKE: We weren't really thinking about the city's reaction to it at first. This is a house that no one cared about, and we saw our job going in there as giving some care to the house.

HEADLEE: And whether by coincidence or design, the home was demolished by the city within a few months. So the guys decided to paint some more houses. A year later, they've coated more than a dozen homes in Tiggerific Orange, and several have been torn down. James Canning from Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick's office, says there is no connection.

Mr. JAMES CANNING (Spokesman, Office of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick): We do not tear down buildings because some group has painted them orange.

HEADLEE: It costs between $3,400 and $7,000 to pull down a house, and Canning says it's sometimes a long and complicated process to establish ownership and get demolition plans approved by city council. He says Object Orange is a group of law-breakers, not activists.

Mr. CANNING: These people are trespassing, and they are defacing property that they do not own. So Object Orange is not helping the cause.

HEADLEE: In Detroit, a person getting caught making graffiti in a public place could be charged with a misdemeanor. That comes with a $500 fine and up to 90 days in jail. But Object Orange has captured the attention and imagination of people across the country. Marc Schiller is with the Wooster Collective, a New York group that celebrates street art. He says this kind of graffiti activism is showing up in London, Berlin and the Middle East.

Mr. MARC SCHILLER (Wooster Collective): It's a concept that's going around the world. In Europe, you find that artists and activists are doing a similar thing to really create an awareness of the community that people live in and to kind of alter perception.

HEADLEE: The paint the group uses is the color of traffic cones, prison jumpsuits, and detour signs. Mike says the group almost broke up over whether to use Tiggerific or Bouncy-Bouncy. They have a lot of philosophical reasons for using the color orange, but in the end, Mike says, it's simply meant to draw the eye.

Mr. MARK: Everybody that's driving past, stopped and looked at this house for a second. And for us, it was a way to memorialize the house, to draw attention to it.

Mr. JAMES (Detroit Resident): To be on the real, I ain't even know they painted it. I thought that that's the color it was.

HEADLEE: That's James, who lives not far from one of the newly painted homes. Members of the neighborhood are divided by Object Orange. Some complain that the group has simply made an eyesore more ugly. But many support Object Orange's spirit and intention, and Object Orange plans to continue painting. Andy, another member of the group, says there are lots of houses in metro Detroit that could use a coat of orange paint.

Mr. ANDY (Artist, Object Orange): We didn't do this to make a statement about graffiti, so much, as making a statement about apathy. And we think that the real crime is actually the fact that these houses have been left to rot for so many years.

HEADLEE: For NPR News, I'm Celeste Headlee in Detroit.

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