Detroit Boasts Over 500 Murals Within The City

One look at Detroit’s Mural Map shows dots so plentiful, they appear to be giant blobs. But those blobs represent art, and those dots represent the nearly 500 works of street art already on the map.

One year ago, USA Today cited Detroit as #4 on its list of the top ten cities with the best street art. Detroit is No. 5 on the 2023 list, but Rochelle Riley, the city’s director of arts and culture, says that Detroit has some of the best artists in the country here, so the city is aiming for the top spot.

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Recently the city issued an Open Call for six muralists to paint the walls surrounding the Joe Louis Greenway; 70 artists applied.

Have you ever wondered how we got here? How did all these murals come to be? If you are an artist who wants to paint a city wall, how do you do it? At Detroitisit, we pondered these things, so we spoke to Riley.

“Like all art,” she says, “It emanates from the creative workforce and talent that exists in the city. People have been doing street art in Detroit forever. There was an effort to get rid of graffiti. What the city is doing now is creating an atmosphere of acceptance and working with artists to showcase street art.”

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She points to the City Walls program that began seven years ago, spearheaded by the city’s General Services Department as part of Mayor Duggan’s anti-blight campaign.

The program employs metro Detroit street artists to paint murals or art installations on both city-owned and privately owned properties that were habitual targets for illegal graffiti tagging and vandalism.

“So instead of covering up the vandalism with paint and being left with blank walls, artists have painted murals to show what wonderful street art is,” Riley says.

Last spring, the City announced more than 200 murals, including 23 by City Walls, making 2023 the biggest year yet. Some sponsors include DTE and Invest Detroit.

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Riley and the Office of Arts, Culture, and Entrepreneurship want to cultivate homegrown talent and make it easier for artists to make a living. That includes offering fellowships, scouting sites for public art, and recommending artists for commercial projects.

If an artist is interested in painting a mural but does not know where to start, City Walls is a great place. Or artists can contact the ACE office to get their names on an artist list used to notify creatives about funding opportunities, job opportunities, and chances to paint. The list has nearly 400 contacts on it to date.

Conversely, if a company or entity, or municipality would like a mural and does not know how or where to find an artist, they can go to City Walls or ACE.

City Walls will do open calls for artists, or my office will work to make connections as well. There are funding opportunities, Riley says. We never want an artist to paint for free.

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Riley’s mission is to spotlight the artists and Detroit as a hub for this kind of work. To that end, she’s invited the other nine cities listed in USA Today’s Top Ten City Murals to Detroit for the first-ever National Street Art Summit in September.

In that same vein of spotlighting artists, Riley’s office worked to develop a searchable online gallery of murals across the city called The Detroit Mural Map. It includes about 500 murals, their locations, and bios of every artist.

Similar to the Joe Louis Greenway commissioning artists, Riley says many neighborhood associations and groups are doing the same to create artwork that honors their community and its history.

“My job is to nurture artistic expression, and everyone who lives in or visits the city gets to see this beautiful art. It’s a win for all.”

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