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From Laptops to Local Art: Third Places in Detroit’s Independent Cafes



The third place is a sociological term that refers to the social environment that is separate from the two usual social environments of home and work. This refers to salons, cafes, parks, theatres, etc. It is a familiar public spot where people can connect and share common interests. With the introduction of hybrid/remote work, many of these third places have become an extension of people’s offices. This is due to fewer work boundaries as people have their work emails attached to their phones so even if they do go out to a bar with friends, they see Zoom messages and emails from fellow coworkers who share the same lack of work boundaries. As people grow tired of working at home, oftentimes they frequent cafes. Instead of the cafe being a common third space, it has also been reduced to the sounds of laptops and people taking work calls. 

So what left is there?

Many independent cafes are bringing back a third-space feel by prioritizing their community. Rather than a major chain that only cares if a patron buys something, these are locations that urge their clients to converse and enjoy their stay. An example of this is Edill’s Coffee House in Scarborough. While one-half of the restaurant is still free to work from, the other half has “electronic-free” seating to encourage conversation. Detroit Perk is another cafe that prioritizes the getting together of their community. Near the back of the spacious cafe are couches and a bookshelf full of activities for people to play with for an unlimited amount of time at no extra cost. 


However, there is one standout coffee house that is putting its community first. That is Dearborn’s own Black Box Coffee. Black Box is not just a coffee house, but a “contemporary social experience,” according to their website. They celebrate original local art and hand-crafted coffee by including exhibitions and galleries. Past exhibitions include Sweetly, From A Window by Tom Livo, Delicate Moments, and Fortitude: The Art of Resilience. Their current exhibit is titled So Let It Be Written – The Art of Freedom by Hani Fayed, a Lebanese-UAE artist who created this interactive community installation, embodying the fight for the right of freedom and self-determination for all. 


Part of this act of self-determination and freedom is including the community in their exhibition. Along with Fayed’s AI pieces, community members have displayed their own art, poems, and projects. Fayed’s pieces focus on the genocide happening in Palestine so many of the art pieces reflect themes of anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and what freedom means for BIPOC individuals. 

The population of Detroit, as well as surrounding areas such as Dearborn, mainly consists of Black Americans and SWANA Americans; populations that are most affected by any political movement in the United States. Dearborn, specifically, has a major Arab population making Fayed’s work that much more important and a place like Black Box Coffee that much more needed. This is an exhibit that highlights community in a coffee shop that emphasizes community through its space. Pockets of gentrification have been happening throughout Detroit and its surrounding cities for a while now. Some argue that gentrification is inevitable due to the lack of housing and funding the city receives. So, inevitably, people will open and highlight places that are intended to connect their community and highlight their community. 

With art exhibits and events thrown through the space, Black Box Coffee is a resurrection of the third place, highlighting their community members. 


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