Who owns the derelict Packard Plant in Detroit has been under much dispute in the last year. Dominic Cristini claims he is the sole owner through his company, BioResource. The city of Detroit is attempting to make ultimatums with Cristini, claiming that he needs to clean or demolish the 3.5-million-square-foot building. However, Cristini has been in jail for the last four years. "The city kept claiming they owned the plant, they evicted my tenants, then knocked down a half-million square feet. Then everyone and their brother went in and scavenged the place while I was in prison. Did they expect me to take care of it when I was locked up?" Cristini asked. So it seems as if the city wants Cristini to do the dirty work, while they reap the benefits of possible new development or a discussed Packard Museum.
To further complicate the somewhat comical issue, street artist and political activist Banksy has left his mark through two pictures; one with a little boy holding a can of paint with the text "I remember when all this was trees", and a canary in a cage in another part of the building. While some argue that Banksy is just a rattle-can wielding outlaw, Banksy does not just tag without reason. He deals with all sorts of social themes including anti-war, anti-capitalism, anti-fascism, anti-imperialism, and even existentialism.
Banksy is not the first artist to grace the Packard Plant. Many students from the College for Creative Students and Wayne State University note that they love taking pictures and exploring what the city calls an eyesore and fire hazard. While they admit that the graffiti and trespassing is illegal, they claim that the building is owned by the artists, who care a great deal more about the building than the city or Cristini himself does. They claim they are the ones who know what goes on inside it more than anyone else, and are always on guard to defend it.
555 Gallery and Studios took it upon themselves to move Banksy's boy artwork to their studio. Carl W. Goines, co-founder of the gallery, claims that saving the piece is "about preservation." He continues, "We're watching this beautiful city crumble around us and we can't do anything to stop it. So with this fine-art piece -- and it's not just everyday graffiti that you might whiz by -- here was our opportunity to do something. It would have been destroyed if we didn't make the effort." While many agree with their decision, the quick life and death of street art is argued to be a part of the game. Shortly after the excavation, BioResource sued 555 Gallery and Studios, and the studio received many threats from Banksy supporters, causing them to take the piece off of display.
So who technically owns the Packard Plant? Is it Dominic Cristini and BioResource, the city of Detroit, or the artists and individuals who have made it worth something? While I believe the artists currently run it and deserve the credit for making it worth something, it will definitely be hard, if not impossible, for their ownership to be legitimized. Cristini claims that he is tired of fighting with the city and is willing to concede and compromise. Stay tuned for an update as more headway is made.