By Harold C. Ford
“The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before.” — Neil Gaiman
Cold weather that blew into the Flint area Saturday, Oct. 12 plummeted wind chill temperatures into the 30s and diminished public participation in a celebratory finale of the Free City Mural Festival.
But cold temps did not dampen the feelings of satisfaction and accomplishment for the project’s chief organizer Joe Schipani.
“It’s been a great year…a year full of murals,” beamed Schipani, executive director of the Flint Public Art Project (FPAP). “We had a lot of positive community feedback.”
FPAP oversaw the creation of 100 public murals in the city of Flint.
A map of all the murals can be found here.
FPAP board member Sandra Branch said each mural would ordinarily cost between $5,000 and $15,000, although the muralists donated their time and work and many supplies and support services were volunteered as well.
Schipani said support came from various sources including the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (CFGF), Comcast, Greater Flints Arts Council, University of Michigan-Flint Office of University Outreach, Cobra Paint, CS Mott Foundation, Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage, and others.
International, national, state, and local artists:
Muralists hailed from 12 foreign countries and many states in the U.S. Several were from Michigan and the Flint area including a high school student from Flint’s Southwestern Classical Academy who assisted artists.
They came bearing names like Zippy Downing, Lian Murales, Kady Yellow, Often Seen Rarely Spoken (OSRS), Kevin Burdick, Jerrod Tobias, J Muzacz, and the Nomad Clan’s Joy Gilleard and Hayley Garner. Street muralists commonly forgo birth names for pseudonyms.
Why Flint? “Flint welcomes the color,” Downing told those gathered for a CFGF panel discussion Oct. 9. “They get very excited about the art…”
One mural controversial
Only one mural generated controversy, a reclining woman on the wall of a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) building facing the parking lot of Woodside Church. Woodside pastor Deborah Conrad and some members of her congregation asserted the mural was “hypersexualized” and objectified women.
Conrad and several members of her congregation met with Yellow, functioning as a mediator; the artist; and representatives of the FPAP. The artist is creating renderings of an alternate mural and negotiations remain underway.
The controversy generated conversation about how the FPAP mediates feedback from the “public” part of “public art” along with issues of artist censorship and autonomy. Sandra Branch said FPAP had conducted substantial conversations with community members about the murals going up in their neighborhoods on about 25 of the projects–the artists sometimes incorporating images suggested by the prospective mural’s neighbors.
Despite the frosty finale, Saturday’s event was preceded by a kickoff party at the Ferris Wheel on Tuesday (an estimated 100 participants), an artists’ panel and reception at CFGF on Wednesday (an estimated 35 participants), and a street art panel discussion at Totem Books on Thursday (an estimated 75 participants).
“It’s been a very successful week,” judged Schipani. “It’s been very satisfying.”
Flint warmed to mural project
FPAP exceeded its initial goal of 50 murals. Finding spaces for the murals was a challenge at first, according to Schipani. But after the first five murals went up, he said, business owners sought him out offering space for the FPAP project.
Schipani is making plans for 50 more murals in 2020. “I want to do more community engagement…making sure the city is getting what it wants,” he said. “I can’t wait to get started next spring.”
Here is the FPAP Facebook page where you can view photos of many of the murals.
Banner photo of mural on Saginaw Street near Atherton Road by Tom Travis.
EVM Staff Writer Harold C. Ford can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson contributed to this report. She can be reached at email@example.com.