Public art serves more than just a means to beautify a city; it provides commentary and context for the political and social forces that shape its citizens’ lives.
Thanks to an exploding arts scene, Detroit is home to more than 1,000 murals, countless installations, statues, sculptures, monuments and more. Here, we spotlight nine powerful public works of art that are both beautiful and thought-provoking. We encourage you to hit the streets and see these incredible pieces for yourself.
1. “I Vote Because’ by Ann Lewis”
Photo credit: 1xRun / Murals in the Market
While artist Ann Lewis painted this mural in 2018, she had organizations on hand registering people to vote. For her, art is a platform to carry a message and spark conversation. “I really wanted to be able to harness the draw that Murals in the Market has to engage more people in our democratic process,” she told WDET’s Ryan Patrick Hooper.
2. “Urban Colonization” by Leon Keer
Photo credit: by @algomasprojects.
In 2017, Surrealist Dutch artist Leon Keer painted this incredible 3D piece for Murals in the Market using spray-painted gold tires to make the image come to life. This mural speaks to the water shutoffs and massive drainage charges in Detroit.
3. “Askew On” by Sydney G. James
Photo credit: Murals in the Market.
The “Our Issue” campaign was launched in 2016 as a collaboration between former Detroit Lions Linebacker, DeAndre Levy, and survivor Desire Vincent Levy to raise money to support processing the backlog of abandoned rape kits in Detroit. For 2017’s Murals in the Market, celebrated Detroit artist Sydney G. James created this mural titled “Askew On” in support of the campaign, which raised over $40,000.
4. “Life is Growth” by MEGGS
Photo credit: David MEGGS Hooke
This piece was painted by Australian artist David “MEGGS” Hooke to launch the inaugural Murals in the Market festival. It represents the hands of labor, paying homage to Eastern Market's positive impact on encouraging and supporting local farmers and artisans.
5. “Unity” by Charles McGee
Photo credit: Sal Rodriguez / Library Street Collective
Charles McGee, a 92-year-old artist from Detroit, created this towering mural on the side of 28 W. Grand River Ave. in Capitol Park. McGee says the mural is meant to reflect the redevelopment that has been happening in Detroit. “My idea was to create something that talks about the energy that are in Detroit now as opposed to even five years ago. It's increasing,” he told Metro Times. “I look down here and I almost get lost now — and I've lived in the city since I was aged 10.”
6. “Blk Grl Fly” by Hebru Brantley
Photo credit: Murals in the Market
Located on East Fisher Freeway Service Drive at Orleans Street, artist Hebru Brantley painted yet another powerful piece for the Eastern Market (his iconc work is a mainstay here). According to Brantley, he uses his characters to challenge the traditional view of the protagonist and “to address complex ideas around nostalgia, the mental psyche, power and hope.”
7. “The Definitive List of Everything That Will Keep You Safe As A Black Woman Being In America” by Sydney G. James
Photo credit: Sydney G James
This moving, larger-than-life piece is meant to be provocative. “I have a young black woman holding a protest sign. On the protest sign is a poem by Scheherazade W. Parrish titled, “The Definitive List of Everything That Will Keep You Safe As A Black Woman Being In America” following the title, the sign is blank to symbolize the current state of racial injustice and attack that we are under in America,” James told The Michigan Chronicle.
8. “I left three days ago” by Nina Chanel
Photo credit: Jaimie Rojo, Library Street Collective.
Created for the the Library Street Collective, non-street artist Nina Chanel painted this installation in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement and the targeting of African American men in the country. Detroit, Michigan.
9. Unnamed, Pat Perry
Photo credit: @dfdzig555
This American Gothic piece, which stands before the iconic Detroit skyline, pays homage to Detroit. Note the agency and craftsmanship of its two hardworking characters — the artists’ neighbors of more than 20 years. Implied is a message of how Detroiters watch each other’s backs. “I wanted to put something on the wall that was a symbol of folks that watched out for this neighborhood through thick and thin,” he says.
10. “Teachers want what children need,” Nicole Macdonald
Photo credit: Jon Zemke
This roughly 20-by-36-foot mural features a portrait of legendary labor leader Mary Ellen Riordan with the quote, "Teachers want what children need." Artist Nicole Macdonald installed the mural on the outside of a Woodbridge party store, drawing attention to school conditions in the city.