Flint, MI — When Jerin Sage started planning photo tours in downtown Flint last November, it was to increase walkability and foot traffic downtown.
Now, the tours have blossomed into something else: being able to see Flint through the eyes of local photographers and residents.
“It really gives us, gives me, a perspective of what people are considering picture-worthy downtown,” Sage said, director of Placemaking through the What’s Up Downtown (WUDT) Project. “It’s allowing us to collect a little bit of data as far as what are people looking at, you know. The different beautification efforts, the construction, the architecture, you know . . . All those sorts of things is very important to be able to kind of measure as far as what the city needs to be doing, moving forward to serve the people that are here.”
The photo tours feature Flint-area photographers as the hosts. So far, three photographers have participated, and Sage expects to add more to the program in the coming months.
Jada Suppes, a Burton photographer, has hosted many of the tours since they started. She said she loves being able to work with youth and teach them how to be artistic.
“[We] just encourage them to just see things differently than what they normally would,” she said.
The Flint Photo Tours take place 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. every other Tuesday, with the next one planned for March 28. Sage said the best way to keep up with the tours is through their Facebook page.
Tours are free and have spots for up to 10 people per tour, with pre-tour registration required. All tours start at the Ferris Wheel, located at 615 South Saginaw Street. If someone brings a kid, they only have to register for the adult, so sometimes the tours are more than 10 people.
Sage said it’s not a requirement to have a camera. He has 12 plastic digital cameras if people don’t have their own, or they can just use their cellphones.
In the past, photographers who have led tours have taken people to see murals or churches, but wherever they go, the tour is completely walkable.
“Each of those is determined by the actual local photographer host that brings their own unique flavor to the tour,” Sage said.
Suppes said she is excited to take photos of flowers this spring. In the past, she’s had participants on the tour take photos of anything from a rusty fire hydrant to a funny piece of trash on the ground to murals throughout the city.
In the future, Sage said he’s hoping to host a bird’s eye tour, one that goes to the rooftops of buildings downtown.
“Mostly it’s just about engaging people with the different places we have downtown to be able to really highlight the cultural and historical attractions that we have,” he said.
However, it’s not just the photo tours that are bringing creatives to the downtown area. Sage said they are also hosting poetry tours, where local poets read their poetry and teach people how to write their own. Other tours with similar structures hosted by WUDT, also include artists tours and musician tours. All of the tours hosted by WUDT take place at the same time and location.
Sage has been working on community engagement activities downtown for about 20 years and has been with WUDT for almost two years. Last year, he said his organization hosted 187 different projects downtown. This year, he said they will likely have even more.