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Solanus Casey Center
Rebecca Kavanagh • Photos by Bill Bowen (unless otherwise noted)
It stands to reason that a place called the Motor City would showcase some of its most powerful large-scale artwork at street level.
In this auto-centric area, you don’t have to park your car to see breathtaking beauty. It’s available — free of admission — on buildings, down alleyways and from 55 miles per hour.
All of this outdoor art is possible in part because of the massive canvas potential that comes from Detroit’s changing landscape. “People are reclaiming empty spaces,” said Vince Carducci, dean of undergraduate studies at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit. “Detroit has always had a maker ethos. Artists are entrepreneurial, and they’re taking what’s perceived to be negative and turning it to a positive.”
That’s precisely what has occurred over the past few years on gritty Grand River Avenue between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Warren Avenue. In 2012, real estate executive Derek Weaver read a disparaging story about the area around his 4731 arts incubator, calling it depressing. He thought it was an unfair portrayal and decided to combat that impression by commissioning graffiti artists (and getting permission from local businesses) to create the Grand River Creative Corridor. Now, nearly 100 murals and a fine arts outdoor gallery brighten the previously unremarkable stretch of land, transforming it into a legitimate tourist attraction.
Kim Rusinow is one of several Detroit tour operators to include the corridor on their regular routes around town. The cofounder of Show Me Detroit Tours said, “Derek has been teaching me to read graffiti so I can explain the symbolism in these magnificent murals.”
Works by the artist known as Malt, for example, who is featured prominently in the Grand River Creative Coordinator as well as in locations across the region, are recognizable by his forest scenes featuring birds and the juxtaposition of growth and decay — similar to a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Rusinow also is quick to tell her touring groups that the artwork isn’t vandalism — as is sometimes the first reaction to spray paint — but is done with permission from local business owners and is in fact deterring local taggers from scrawling their initials on buildings because they respect the “canvas.”
“One goal was to engage the creative community to take ownership of this area,” said Weaver, citing a sharp decline in territorial graffiti and vandalism since the project took hold. “Change has to start somewhere, and we start with art.”
He’s not the only one. Property owners across the city are collaborating with street artists. When the venerable Grand Rapids pub HopCat came to town, founder and owner Mark Sellers worked with Weaver to commission soaring murals on every exterior wall, including Malt’s 1,500-square-foot, steely-eyed bird taking flight over the parking lot.
“I think street art has a huge impact on Detroit,” said Malt, a Michigan native who has been invited to paint walls in locations across the globe, from Miami to Amsterdam. He said the artists he meets abroad are just as eager to visit his hometown. “Over the last four or five years, I’ve seen the art scene grow tremendously. It’s made Detroit a destination — not only to paint here but to see what the city has to offer.”
There are many more locations to see incredible street art around Detroit.
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