Artist Residency Program Inspires “Opportunity Rising” Blight Abatement Murals   

Resident artist Quinn Faylor, left, recently completed this mural of the night sky and sun elements on I-94 and Van Dyke. Detroit City’s Walls’ Blight Abatement program artist in resident, Ivan Montoya, center, Detroit City’s Walls’ Blight Abatement program artist in resident, Habacuc S. Bessiake, right. 

 

Detroit is tackling the city’s most blighted neighborhoods by engaging local artists in City Walls’ Blight Abatement Artist Residency Program (BAARP). 

“We work with the Department of Neighborhoods and the Detroit business liaisons to try to identify community stakeholders who would benefit from these resources,” said Zak Meers, manager of City Walls.  

“So, the three resident artists who paint murals for us throughout the seasons do so at no cost to the property owners because [they] are essentially donating their walls and saying I want to be part of this community-driven process.” 

Headed by the city’s General Services Department, City Walls was launched in 2017 as a dedicated program to enhancing public spaces in Detroit by focusing on the transformation of city walls.  

This year, the City Walls program is running the fourth cohort of artists with BAARP. The initiative enables artists to work with property owners who have received a blight violation ticket; a portion of the ticket cost will be eligible to be covered.  

“We try to find folks who would really benefit from it,” said Meers, “The qualifications are is it a public facing wall? Is it easily accessible by the public and will it be a high-impact location? These are the common three qualities we look for.” 

Meet the 2022 BAARP Resident Artists 

The city partnered with SpaceLab Detroit for the 2022 season of BAARP to sponsor three Detroit artists: Habacuc Samuel Bessiake, Ivan Montoya and Quinn Faylor. 

Each artist receives a stipend during their time, covers the cost of their supplies and assistance with City Walls over the course of five months. Each artist engages community residents in the available spaces to bring their respective visions to life in five murals throughout different neighborhoods. 

“I really love that I do the kind of thing that means something to me in places that I’ve lived around,” said Bessiake, a Detroit-based multimedia artist, muralist and gallery exhibitionist.  

He recently started his first mural on the Comstock Playground near the James Couzens Freeway. 

“There’s a peewee football team that plays out there and they have this storage space for their equipment and for a while it’s been kind of an eyesore, so they reached out to me, and I painted a design surrounding the team.” 

The mural is that of the team mascot, a cougar, as well as her three cubs. Additionally, the art work has a football player and cheerleader running through tall grass with an inspirational quote for the home team, “Obstacles never last, but you got to keep pushing through the tall grass.” 

Quinn Faylor moved to Detroit in 2016 from Petoskey, Mich. They began painting murals in their bedroom walls when they were younger before branching out to public spaces.  

“I would describe my style as abundant, joyful, and abstract, but sometimes they have figurative elements,” said Faylor. “I like to think about shapes as having characterizations, like how do these shapes behave in this world? So, it’s very grounded in a call and response to each other.” 

Faylor has two walls lined up for murals. The first one is a few blocks away from their own, located off I-94 and Van Dyke on the other side of the Kettering-Butzel neighborhood.    

“When I first got the residency,” said Faylor, “I really wanted at least one in my neighborhood because there aren’t any murals over there and still a lot of abandoned homes and a lot of vacancy. It was really cool to meet some of my current neighbors drop by, talk to people and blog about it. It felt really good and very of my home.”  

Faylor’s upcoming murals include one on the side of the Williams Recreational Center on Rosa Parks Boulevard, followed by another on the wall of the Detroit K-9 Supply Store on Gratiot Ave. near Seven Mile.  

Born in Chihuahua, Mexico, Ivan Montoya moved to Southeastern Michigan 20 years ago, before residing in Detroit in 2013. 

In 2018, Montoya worked at Murals in the Market as a wall manager and was given an opportunity to contribute a mural of his own, a space lady and a computer on Gratiot Ave. off the I-75 exit.  

“I’m trying to get my murals to be very organic and grounded in nature and humankind, a little allegorical,” said Montoya. “Also, [it is] influenced a lot by my Mexican culture.” 

The first one he completed is on I-75 and Dequindre St. in Hamtramck. Montoya described the work as a parent hoisting a child on their shoulders while climbing a construction lift. The child is putting the sun in the sky, as if changing a light bulb. 

“We were told to go into the process with ‘Opportunity Rising’ in mind,” said Montoya. “We do a lot of community engagement to figure out what the community wants. They want to see themselves reflected, Black people and the figures representing the working class.” 

Montoya is beginning the next mural in the Fall, set to be located in the McDougal-Hunt neighborhood. 

“Our tagline is ‘Art should represent the values and identity of the community that it’s being created with,’” said Meers. “We really want to make sure that we’re empowering Detroit artists and the community is getting to be a part of it.”  

In November, the resident artists will celebrate their contributions to the city with an art show.  

Residents can view the progress of the City Walls Detroit Mural Map at detroitmi.gov/departments/general-services-department/city-walls. 

 

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