The role of street art in Milwaukee Junction

The traditional notion of street art is changing. Candy Chang is creating paintings and installations in New Orleans that shift the public’s involvement in under-utilized space. Stephen Powers is getting paid by the city of Philadelphia to make enormous message-based paintings that are highly visible from the city’s elevated train line. And all throughout, Richard Florida has been on his soap box talking about place making and the re-growth of cities by this “creative class“.

With these three ingredients, my company DETROIT LIVES! worked with a building owner in the Milwaukee Junction area to take a historically blighted structure and turn it in to an asset to the community. We painted a very simple message on a building roughly 38 feet tall by 25 feet wide—a nod to the history of that physical place—and it was meant to make people feel good. The result:

Detroit LIVES We KAHN do it

KAHN?!

In the mid and late 1920′s, Albert Kahn, heralded architect of Detroit, finished three iconic buildings in what is now New Center—Cadillac Place, the Fisher Building and the Argonaut Building. All three stand as monuments to progress in the city and the efforts of one man and his firm that largely re-defined the beauty and image of Detroit. It seemed a natural fit for the messaging of the mural to reflect the historical progress and tenacity of one of the city’s most significant designers—not to mention that as you stood in front of the wall looking at it, all three buildings were in plain view off to the side. It seemed too strange a coincidence, and begged a play on words.

The Process

We started painting in the fall of 2010, with the cold weather putting a stall on the completion until spring 2012, when the paint was able to adhere to the wall. The progress was a fun journey—with regular passersby declaring their appreciation for the work, others inquiring about the message, and many just wanting to have a casual chat.

Today the mural stands as a statement piece to the city’s progress and forward movements. Commuters pass by it every day. Residents enjoy the pleasant splash to their day as they walk their dog. It’s hard to measure the affect of such a work in terms of tangible resources, but surely you can’t argue its significance—even if only for the simple smile it begs day in and day out.