LIVING AND WORKING IN DETROIT’S NEW ECONOMY
THURSDAY JANUARY 26th, 2012
Noah Levy, a 24-year-old graffiti artist and art director for the House of Marley, has carved a niche for himself in the state’s new economy. Unlike politicians and business leaders, he did it without attending economic forums or spitting buzzwords like “boomerangs” or “new economy.” Rather, he pursued his passions — cars, art and business — and a career followed.
“It’s weird how patterns have evolved in my life,” said Levy, who lives in Birmingham. “But it’s always bounced back between cars, creative and business.”
Growing up in West Bloomfield, Levy’s interest in cars launched this professional trifecta. Having attended nearly every Woodward Dream Cruise, Levy thought he might pursue the mechanical side of the automotive industry however, the College for Creative Studies (CCS) design courses he took in high school steered him in a new direction.
“For some reason designing and working with other people captured my attention more than the hands on mechanical aspect of car design and manufacturing,” Levy said.
After a few years at CCS, Levy transferred to the University of Michigan to study business, a logical move for an artist that had been making money as a freelancer throughout high school and college.
“I decided to seek something I could make money at and was good at which was business,” Levy said about the transfer. “I wanted to learn how to be an entrepreneur.”
Left Brain, Right Brain
After a few years of economics and marketing lectures, Levy enrolled in Full Sail University, an Orlando, Fla.-based school that specializes in the entertainment industry.
“I like to keep a balance in my life between making money and having fun,” Levy said. “I thought, I’ve done my two years here (University of Michigan) and I’m starting to lose focus. I want to get back into art and design.”
After receiving his associate degree from Full Sail, Levy worked for Campbell-Ewald, a Warren, Mich.-based advertising agency. Levy worked on the GM account, which he loved, but after less than two years, he started to consider moving back to Florida.
That’s when a friend told him about the House of Marley, an environmentally friendly headphone company located in Commerce Township, Mich. that was hiring an art director. Levy got the job and has worked there for six months designing promotional materials for the company.
Connections and Perceptions
Levy’s success working in the new economy contradicts the panicked pace with which the state’s thought leaders attempt to harness creative talent. When it comes to talent, state leadership often has had a difficult time cutting the apron strings, determining to keep kids in Michigan the moment they graduate when many of them, particularly creatives, want to expand their life experiences before committing to Michigan.
In Florida, Levy was exposed to a vibrant art scene and a city—Miami—that is fighting stereotypes in order to claim a new identity.
“People have all these associations about Miami like people do about Detroit, our economy and the auto industry,” Levy said. “Most people associate Florida with retirement homes, delicatessens, and a state with a long history of drug problems, but there are a lot of amazing cultural events happening there that are changing the artistic community all over the world.”
Levy feels the same way about Detroit. Though the city has plenty of stereotypes to conquer, artists from around the world are realizing its potential.
“CCS is pumping out so many creative kids and a lot of them are going to Chicago or New York, but there’s a few that are sticking it out,” Levy said. “It’s the few that are sticking it out that share the same values I do. They have this love/hate relationship with Michigan and Detroit. They don’t want to go somewhere else and be a needle in a haystack. They want to network and they want to be different.”
In August 2010, Levy launched WoodwarD, a well-designed arts publication that uses the iconic street name, which connects the suburbs and the city, as a metaphor for how Detroit and the surrounding suburbs rise and fall together as a region.
“As a state and as a metropolitan area we need to connect to each other and break these social divides,” Levy said. “I didn’t want to call it Art Detroit or something like that because it’s not. There are a few people who are doing really great things and I don’t think any of us like to classify ourselves as being part of the city or the suburbs.”
WoodwarD showcases the city’s artistic talent, a group Levy sees as a regional change agent. The second issue of WoodwaD was published in August 2011. Levy would like to publish a third but hasn’t planned a publishing date.
“There are tons of artists moving here from all over the world and I think people see that,” Levy said. “The creatives and the designers are the people who look at something and see it differently than everyone else. They make it their own and other people follow.”