Riding throughout the city of Detroit I see many peculiar signs posted or painted on the sides of buildings. Some are quite creative in their advertising message. Others are crude in their execution, layout and design. I’ve seen all types of graffiti; well designed colorful paintings and simple one line, one color tags promoting some sort of goods or services. Some are real attention grabbers like the series of unusual murals found on buildings along Harper Avenue on Detroit’s eastside. I’ve also spotted the same type of murals in an industrial area near the Davidson Expressway in Highland Park, that small city within the city of Detroit.
A couple of them looked as if they were somehow related to the hip-hop music culture. Others featured caricatures of what looked to be community activists. A few of the pieces were difficult to read. Others were a collage of various urban images and people. The imaginative pictures appeared to be pre-painted on some type of weather resistant paper that was glued to the sides of the various buildings. The wall side images had the same underlying theme: “restoring the neighbor back to the hood.”
The first wall paintings I saw in this series were on an abandoned building along Harper Avenue Curiously, they all had a unique identification number prominently displayed next to each image. The numbers sparked my interest, making me wonder what they were all about. It wasn’t until a couple of months later, when I came across the murals in Highland Park, that the numbers started to make sense. There, posted on a wall next to the pieces, was a website address and a short message inviting people to visit the site for info on the murals. I did just that, and strangely, there was nothing there related to the murals.
I recently revisited the site, called Detroit Summer. Much to my surprise it had been revamped and now has a short video on the murals I stumbled upon. Detroit Summer appears to be the organization that commissioned and placed the murals on those walls. It is basically a youth led alliance that uses music, poetry and art to examine problems of the community and offer positive solutions. Click here to visit the site and read up on this youth based grass-roots organization.