A fresh coat of paint can liven up a space, and Detroit’s Livernois-Six Mile district is a prime example of this. Over the last year, new murals and mosaics have been popping up there, providing residents and visitors with a wealth of vibrant new visual experiences.
Many of these installations have been commissioned by the Live6 Alliance, a planning and development nonprofit that’s been working with residents and other stakeholders to revitalize the area.
Live6’s Program Director Ajara Alghali says the vast majority of the new public art pieces — 90 percent — have been created by Detroit artists with connections to the neighborhood.
“That’s really exciting, because they’re really able to share their thoughts and visions about the neighborhood, the transformation of the city and are able to add a special touch,” she says. “And they’re able to speak to the residents more effectively because they understand the geography and the demographics there.”
Here’s a look at some of the new installations that have taken root in the area.
‘Community Thrives Here’
Located at Eric’s I’ve Been Framed frame shop at 16527 Livernois, “Community Thrives Here” is a colorful photo collage created by Asia Hamilton. It features a group of children running playfully with a pair of elders, presumably grandparents, standing over them. Hamilton, a veteran Detroit photographer who studied at College for Creative Studies and Columbia College Chicago, created the installation by assembling a series of portraits and photos of landscapes and textures she taken into a unified photomontage last summer.
As for the theme, Hamilton wanted to evoke a feeling of being “free and vibrant” and have the piece be representative of the children who live in the Fitzgerald neighborhood where the mural can be found.
“All the time, you see stuff around and you don’t see people who look like you, black people,” she says. “So I wanted to create a mural that was going to be relatable. And I feel like that could be my grandmother or my grandfather. Just the love from the mural was what I was trying to convey.”
In addition to her photography work, Hamilton also runs the Nozomi Live Design company, which is responsible for the look and branding of Detroit businesses like LIV Resto Lounge and the Kidscapes Foundation. She also owns and curates the Norwest Gallery of Art next to Pages Bookshop in Grandmont-Rosedale; the gallery’s current show “Tinder Moments” is an interactive mixed media installation that explores dating and social media and runs through mid-September.
‘LeRoy the King’ and ‘Aretha: Queen of Soul’
Fel’le’s “King Leroy” mural. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Livernois Avenue is also home to two new murals painted by Fel’le. A professional artist who’s designed stage pieces for Tyler Perry and artists like Kanye West and Mary J. Blige, Fel’le is a fixture of the neighborhood who owns an art studio and gallery at the corner of Livernois Avenue and Pembroke Street.
Last year, Live6 commissioned him to paint a mural on the avenue between Florence and Grove Streets. Given creative freedom over the installation’s subject, he ultimately decided to create an homage to LeRoy Foster, a highly respected artist who like Fel’le once operated a studio on Livernois.
Detroit native Foster lived from 1925 to 1993, studied art in London and Paris, identified openly as a gay man, and was known in his day as Detroit’s “Black Michelangelo.” Although mostly unacknowledged today, he’s probably best remembered for the big murals he created, including one of Frederick Douglass and John Brown at the Detroit Public Library. The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History also owns several of his portraits, one of which depicting founder Charles H. Wright is located in the museum’s board room.
Fel’le’s 100-foot-wide mural is called “LeRoy the King.” It incorporates different elements of Foster’s life, including his own Frederick Douglass mural.
“I wanted to show his dedication to the arts,” says Fel’le. “There’s a big portrait of LeRoy in the middle of the mural and also the hands of God that Michelangelo painted reaching out holding a crown.”
“Aretha: Queen of Soul” mural by Fel’le. Photo by Nick Hagen.
During the time Fel’le was working on his Foster piece last August, Aretha Franklin had just passed away. Her passing inspired him to create a tribute to the famous singer. That installation, which features a portrait of the singer’s head in pink, blue, and gray, can be found on a wall next to his gallery and across from the New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church. Fel’le created “Aretha: The Queen of Soul” in just eight hours on a single day, while taking a break on his Foster installation.
“The Aretha Franklin mural is based on her energy and the love and support she always showed Detroit,” says Fel’le. “Her being connected with music and the arts and me being an artist, I felt I had some type of connection, so I just wanted to show my love.”
‘Hands of Happiness’ and ‘Celebrating Resilience and Song’
The new mosaics by Hubert Massey at Ella Fitzgerald Park were designed through a community consultation process and involved local residents in the making and installation of tiles. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Livernois Avenue, however, isn’t the only place in the area gaining newfound attention in the form of public art. Ella Fitzgerald Park now sports two mosaic murals created by celebrated Detroit artist Hubert Massey. A former sign painter who learned the art of making fresco murals from disciples of Diego Rivera, he knows the neighborhood well, having made tiles for his mosaics at a ceramics facility located on Marygrove College’s campus.
Massey created two ceramic murals for the park, “Hands of Happiness” and “Celebrating Resilience and Song.” The city of Detroit commissioned the works in partnership with The Trust for Public Land as part of the Fitzgerald Revitalization Project, a city-led effort to repurpose vacant publicly owned properties in the Fitzgerald neighborhood. Both murals were designed through a community consultation process and involved local residents in the making and installation of tiles.
“That was a community effort where community members came out and put the tiles on the surface,” says Alghali. “Those tiles have really come to life since they were installed a little over a year ago.”
‘Psychedelic Shack’ and ‘Birchcrest’
“Psychedelic Shack” by Darryl Smith. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Two new murals now also have a home in the lot across from the new Neighborhood HomeBase community center on West McNichols Avenue between San Juan Drive and Prairie Street. Both were commissioned by the Live6 Alliance as part of its Detroit Neighborhood Arts project.
The first of these is “Psychedelic Shack,” a colorful photomontage by Darryl Smith. A native of Detroit, Smith attended the College for Creative Studies for three years in Detroit before transferring to the ArtCenter in Pasadena, California. He’s notably worked at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles and served as an art director for videos by Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, and Tupac Shakur. Composed of striking pinks, blues, and yellows, Smith’s installation is made up of digitally altered photos of homes, people, and vehicles that he’s gathered for the project.
“I would take these houses and beautify them on PhotoShop,” he says in a video reflecting on the piece. “I couldn’t do it in real life, but I could do it in PhotoShop. I colorized and beautified my neighborhood and then I built my own blocks.”
Not Far from “Psychedelic Shack” is another installation called “Birchcrest” by Megan White, who’s also known as Daisy. White, an art therapist and artist, grew up just a few blocks away from her mural, which shows a colorful horizon filled with trees and homes and features a young woman gazing reflectively over the scene.
“Birchcrest” by Megan White
“I’m hoping the mural itself will do something for the people in the community,” she says in a promotional video, “which will hopefully inspire them to do more for their community.”
‘What We Need Is Education’
The Fitzgerald community has also been advising artist Chazz Miller on another Live6 Alliance-commissioned mural called “What We Need Is Education,” which is now nearing completion.
A street artist and teacher, Miller founded Artist Village, a community arts gallery in Detroit’s Old Redford neighborhood connected to Motor City Blight Busters. He’s been supported in his effort by CultureSource, a Southeast Michigan-based arts organization, and Mural Arts Philadelphia, a long-running Philly group that specializes in public art undertakings.
“What We Need Is Education,” which depicts a variety of people teaching, learning, and creating, is being installed on Puritan Avenue between Wisconsin and Ohio Streets.
It will be completed on Aug. 24 and recognized during a celebration running from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Alghali says the event will feature food and bounce houses and be reminiscent of a block party.
“That will be the actual opening or ‘dedication,’ ” she says, “so the public can come out and see what has been transpiring on that lot. It’s definitely going to be reflective of the character of the neighborhood.”
This article is part of a series where we revisit stories from our On the Ground installment and explore new ones in the Live6 area. It is supported by the Kresge Foundation.