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Photos by Tana Tiehea Nichols
Article by Steven Paul Magstadt

On the walls at the Magic Bean Cafe (5789 State Street, Suite #3, Saginaw), "From the Ashes: Beauty in Abandonment" is an installation mainly of photography and submitted writings on the issues surrounding and the impressions caused by what is commonly called urban decay.

The United States as a whole—and the parts of the Mid-West that were heavily industrialized, in particular—are faced with some very specific challenges in our inner city residential and business districts.

What do we do with the massive complexes left behind by once-lucrative manufacturing businesses once the need for their products has passed? What do we do with public, residential and commercial buildings that were built in times of great wealth and population growth now that said wealth is no longer being produced and many communities are witnessing rapidly dwindling populations?

We begin to see that the structures built in better economies—from factories and filling stations to mansions and migrant worker houses—are simultaneously incredible resources and potential liabilities. Even while we appreciate that such structures are an irreplaceable part of our nation's heritage we are forced to become incredibly more creative in the finding of uses for these structures and/or the materials from their disassembly.

We are Americans for whom the questions "What do we do with this?" and "How can we make this financially rewarding?" come to mind almost wherever we look. We are a people noted for looking away from what is traditional to make something new.

This energy to create has built some of the most remarkable structures of the last century, and this same energy now pushes for their demise, even though there may not be funds to build structures so great again in the foreseeable future of our nation.

Come look through the lenses and words of several artists who consider these questions at a time when, more than ever, we are pressed to ask ourselves if something has a right to exist simply for its aesthetic beauty even when its financial viability has passed, or if we have the defensible right to deprive future generations of a part of their heritage simply because we are fiscally capable of pulling down what we can never afford build again.

© Steven Paul Magstadt, 2011