Paint locally, live globally.

Paint locally, live globally.

#streetart #getpaid #buildcommunity #makefriends

The artists and student volunteers in front of their mural on Granville Ave, June 2016; Erika Lopez, Raquel Silva, Carolina Muñoz, Joseph Hartman, Ricardo Gonzalez, and David Frison. 

Just south of the Cook Art Center, on Grandville Ave, is a an old warehouse and fenced-in vacant lot. There are a handful of similar spaces along the Grandville corridor south of downtown, but this one is special.  Among the weeds and crumbling pavement is a brand new, ultra colorful mural of flags, symbols of peace and learning, and rays of light that celebrate the surrounding community. The mural, completed at the end of June, was designed and painted by three artists with ties to GR and roots across the country; Ricardo Gonzalez, Raquel Silva, and David Frison, with help from area high school students. Ricardo is a recent MFA grad from Kendall College of Art & Design, originally from Blue Island, IL, he recently moved back to the Chicago area to continue his career as a painter, teacher, and arts advocate. Raquel is a current KCAD undergraduate student studying drawing, she's originally from Puerto Rico and is spending the later half of the summer there with family and friends before she makes another big move to Chicago. David, from Detroit, is also studying at KCAD in the graphic design program. The Cook Art Center and the Hispanic Center of West Michigan teamed up to support this project that began in late 2015 as a series of community consultation meetings. Local residents made suggestions and requests for content of the mural and the artists responded with a design that features cultural icons, and symbols of peace, unity and education. The flags of Puerto Rico, El Salvador, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Costa Rica form the base of the mural. Behind them, arms of many skin-tones are raised in signs of peace (or victory). And finally, figures of students studying perch atop the boarded up windows near the roofline.  The final product is impressive both as a new neighborhood icon and also as a solid piece of public art.

I first heard about this project from Ricardo. I'm always interested in how artists balance their practice between professional and personal projects and Ricardo's involvement in this mural seemed like both. Ricardo's personal work focuses on depictions of Mexican-American identity in the United States. He plays with pop-culture icons, stereotypes, and traditional images in equal measure. His work can sometimes feel fun and playful and other times it can grab you by the eye-balls shake apart your expectations of personal and public art. Now in a public, family-friendly forum Ricardo is balancing those interests with public needs. He says, "This was a massive project with much research, public forums, and many people being involved... Many people in the neighborhood really loved stopping by to chat and share memories of their childhood or the past. This mural has brought many positive words from community folks who feel they are truly being reflected in the mural."

On my second visit to the mural site a few student volunteers where on hand, helping spray paint the shadow detail on one of the hands and generally hanging out. It was clear that they had developed a positive rapport with the artists. Raquel points out that, "Communicating, relating to other people and developing a network with the Hispanic community is constantly a reminder of unity." And it shows in the finished product.

All three artists have worked on large-scale public art or done guerrilla-style street art in the past, but this experience helped to legitimized their practice and find value outside of the often self-serving, unrewarding process of creating street art. I think David put it best, "I was always influenced by public street artist like Shepard Fairey but never gave public art much consideration. I now find making public art can have more effect when is in a public space than on social media."

But beyond the intrinsic rewards of building a positive community environment, getting paid to paint and adding another line to their resumes Ricardo, Raquel and David also found this to be a professional development opportunity.

  • Ricardo; "these experiences always help me refine and discover best practices of working on a team and explaining or teaching a skill or process. I feel it is always helpful to work in these group murals as it helps myself and others practice communication skills."
  • David: "My biggest take away is discovering how art can influence people to do things and if you half ass it, you'll be responsible for what does not happen and you art would be inauthentic." 
  • Raquel; "Networking has been always one of my challenges. This project opened new possibilities to other opportunities and the only way that was possible it was through making new friends... I never experienced myself making so many valuable connections... I know they will always be in touch."

You can also find some wheat paste bombs around town that David and Raquel installed while painting the mural. Follow David on Instagram and see if you can spot them.