Fostering local ownership of the project informed the selection of artists invited, with half of the artists based in Detroit. Two questions guided this focus: “How do we represent our city by the muralists who paint? How can people who travel in be an inspiration to the community?” This approach is also responsive to Detroit’s long history as a majority African American city, an aspect of the city that is reflected in a number of the murals. This component of the project also resonated with visitors, who drew inspiration not only from imagery, but also from the artists themselves. Local elementary school art teacher Alana Wynes commented that “her students had previously struggled to make personal connections to work by black artists in museums. She contrasted that experience with the immediacy of seeing a young artist of color, dressed in familiar jeans and a T-shirt, working on a piece.”
The project also connected business owners, workers, and artists to strengthen the community of stakeholders in the diverse and long-standing Eastern Market. At 125 years old, Eastern Market is the longest continuously running food market in the United States and has been a place to build a livelihood for generations of diverse immigrants and ethnic groups. The market’s 5-block footprint is the nexus of a district food hub replete with wholesalers, retailers, food processors, and a regular night market that runs midnight to 5 a.m., supplying food industries across the city. Jela Ellefson, Grants / Community Development Director for Eastern Market Corporation, described the central market as a meeting place for disparate cultural and socio economic groups. Here public art “softens the edges of industry” and draws people out of the main market into other sections of the district, serving as “a conduit for people to feel safe to explore.”
In infusing public art into the district, 1xRUN is collaborating closely with Eastern Market Corporation and both have an eye on the long-term and a concern to hedge the advancement of gentrification and ensure that the district maintains the vitality and diversity that have been its backbone for over a century. Partnering with building owners, Eastern Market Corporation is balancing converting older properties to mixed purpose sites with moves that support the modernization and food safety improvements needed by local businesses working in the food industry.
These efforts are all unfolding in the aftermath of Detroit’s historic 2013 bankruptcy and in the midst of citywide conversations about revitalization and attracting investment. As the city continues to wrestle to rebuild and rebrand itself, a second iteration of Murals in the Market is already in the planning stages. In this pocket of the city, artists and residents seek a balance that continues to be a challenge for Detroit as a whole – crafting a future that does not fail to respect and serve the character, history, and diverse populations that made the city what it is.