Change Agents, Creativity

Revitalization can start with art and graffiti art is making it happen on Grand River Avenue

Before and after at the Grand River Creative Corridor

What would you think if Rembrandt or Dali painted a masterpiece on your business, house or garage? Would you label it graffiti? Of course not. You’d show everyone (and then maybe sell it for millions).

Ok. That’s never going to happen but there is a half mile stretch of Grand River heading out to Northwest Detroit where the Rembrandts and Dalis of the graffiti world have done a tremendous job spiffing up dilapidated buildings and working with business on that strip to hype their operations.

It’s the brainchild of 25-year-old Derek Weaver, principal and managing director of 4731 and the Grand River Creative Corridor (GRCC). He recruited local, national and international graffiti arts to work with local businesses to create artwork that showcased their buildings. The work began three months ago and the change on that section of Grand River is amazing. (Check out the before and after pictures with this blog.) So far, they have added more than 100 murals and outdoor art gallery exhibits.

“We want to turn this into an area where artists, entrepreneurs and businesses want to invest,” he says. “They have not invested in this neighborhood because the clientele is not here. We are a drive-by neighborhood and we want to change that.”

For example, the graffiti on the American Integrated Supply building as cartoon character-like nuts, bolts and a hammer with a bubble that says “welcome to the oldest screw and bolt place in Detroit.” This business has been around since 1943.

The graffiti on the front of the Grand River Creative Corridor building at 4731 Grand River shows what’s in the building … beauty salons, artists and photographers. The building across GRCC parking lot is massive piece of art titled Our Land To Death, which features an Indian theme. The artwork yet to come on Basil’s Party Store will be of things like Better Made potato chips and Faygo.

The corner by the GRCC building is now home to three, three-sided 8 by 24 ft. art structures that hold museum quality artwork that could easily hang in the DIA. In one case the fine-art outdoor galleries reflect a modernized Diego Rivera mural like we’ve seen in there.

“The key to revitalization must start somewhere,” Weaver says. “We started with art … there has been a very positive response by the people who live in the neighborhood.”

It’s no wonder. Not only does the art clean up the street, Weaver also improved the view for children attending a school nearby. He worked with the artists to paint kid-themed graffiti on a vacant building across the street from the school so the kids “didn’t have to stare at an abandoned building.”

Graffiti art also decorates vacant buildings on this stretch. For example, just down the street from the GRCC building Weaver has added his own graffiti art to the top of an abandoned building, which features fireworks. At the bottom of the building is a prayer done by artist, Loaf, which says “if you or any other person tries to harass, harm or through rumors or gossip somebody will instantly cover your mouth, the same person will instantly cover the ears of who you speak to …Amen.”

Adding this art to the buildings is also a way to control vandalism. It seems there is an unwritten code that art done by well-known graffiti artists is off limits for gang graffiti and others. “There is a level of respect for great (graffiti) artists,” Weaver says, pointing out that only 5 percent of graffiti is gang related.

This is a shift. In the past the businesses spent big bucks to clean traditional graffiti off their store fronts. Here they’re encouraged.

Many of the participating artists are graduates of the College of Creative Studies and others are from Ohio, California, Germany, France and New Zealand. More than 45 lent their talent to the project including Sintex, Sydney G. James, Kosek, Kobie Solomon, Christopher Batten, Iges, Ramen, Malt BrownBagDetroit, Clifton Perry, Tead, Sham, Lamar Landers, Patrick Mills, Halima Cassells, Sabrina Nelson, Fel3000ft, and Alonzo Edwards. Some of these artists sell their fine art work for tens of thousands of dollars and many create museum quality work.

One work is very special to Weaver. It was done by his 9-year-old sister and is called Detroit Keep the Faith Alive and features flowers and a cross.

The Grand River cleanup is catching. On October 6 about 250 medical students from Wayne State University will pick up trash and paint buildings. The MotorCity Casino is sponsoring the volunteer day by providing 300 box lunches, 350 pairs of work gloves, 700 trash bags, 2 large dumpsters, gallons of weed-killer and other clean-up tools. Home Depot Inc. has donated 50 gallons of exterior paint through suppliers Glidden and Behr. Groupon has organized a fundraising campaign and is accepting donations on behalf of the GRCC Detroit project.

The project is also the recipient of the “Keep Michigan Beautiful” award.

So far this project has cost about $25,000 in paint and supplies.

Just in case you think Weaver is done, think again. Next year’s project is to mow down the vegetation on some of the overgrown fields along Grand River, plant some wild flowers and then add more of the three-sided art structures to the area. “We don’t want people to walk through waist-high vegetation to see them,” Weaver says.

Given what we’ve seen so far the art that will appear next year should go a long way in making sure this section of Grand River is no longer a drive by … and if it is, it will be for a whole different reason.


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