Sandra Branch of Gallery on the Go leads efforts to bring art and renewal to Flint neighborhoods.
The Capitol Coney Island Restaurant mural features layers and layers of imagery. Mike Naddeo
Capitol Coney Island Restaurant is home to more than hotdogs. Mike Naddeo
A burger, serving with a smile, at Capitol Coney Island Restaurant Mike Naddeo
A mural at a coney place wouldn't be complete without a hotdog. Mike Naddeo
Lady Liberty stands proud at Grand Traverse and Oakley streets. Mike Naddeo
Take in an outdoor movie, flanked by art, in University Park. Mike Naddeo
Murals line the Riverwalk in downtown Flint. Mike Naddeo
A young girl's hands sprout up from the earth. Next to her, a woman is planting a book into the soil. The roots of both dig deep, tapping into a variety of arts.
This mural makes the brick facade fresh and new, giving new life to the aging building. It is one of many murals popping up throughout Flint neighborhoods creating a bounty of urban art.
They are giving a new look to street corners, landmarks, and once-neglected buildings. This particular mural sits on Lewis Street on Flint’s eastside, a stone’s throw from where Buick City once stood. It's one of some 30 murals painted across the city through a partnership with Gallery on the Go and the Flint Public Art Project.
Sandra Branch, the local artist who founded Earthworks Art Studio and Gallery on the Go, said public art is a way to give back to the community by providing “an avenue for vacant—but viable—homes and buildings to be saved, renovated and renewed.”
“(In) this area is a business that works in sustainable green spaces,” she said, pointing to the building on Lewis Street. “They wanted a theme that communicated that, so this piece is really about planting creativity and wisdom and growing people who are culturally minded, that can build a sustainable community.”
Walking near busy North Saginaw Street with a community garden nearby, a broad smile slowly grew across Branch’s face.
“We worked on this one in the summer of 2016,” she said, motioning to a mural featuring bright colors and cartoon characters. “The impact has been incredible. This street was blighted and now the trash has been picked up. The lawns have been cut. You are seeing a transformation here.”
Many groups have contributed to the growing urban art scene in Flint with larger-than-life murals. Along with Gallery on the Go and Flint Public Art Project, the International Academy, University of Michigan-Flint, the Real Art Team from Richfield Central Church of the Nazarene and others have had a hand in changing the face of individual buildings and, in some cases, whole neighborhoods.
“After 30 or so sites, the reaction to the art has been phenomenal—take any road you go down where these paintings have gone up, it makes it so much nicer to ride on, and it really changes your mood about the where you are.” Schultz said the Rev. Randy Schultz of Our Savior Lutheran Church, where the congregation has worked with Branch on paintings.
Schultz said it’s important for the members of the community around his northside church to see something “special, different and colorful to look at.”
Artist Ryon Gonzalez created several northside murals because, “it brings the gallery to the neighborhood.”
When Gonzalez moved to Flint from Detroit to work as a tattoo artist, he also wanted to make a difference in the community.
“It’s important to share your talents. I was always taught that if you have something to give or you can do something that can help others, that you need to put it out there and share it with the world,” Gonzalez said.
Joe Schipani, managing director of the Flint Public Art Project, said “the big picture” behind these projects goes way beyond beautification.
“The murals make people feel safe, and when people feel safe, they move back in, businesses move back, and an area comes back to life,” he said.
He pointed to the mural on the Union Print building on North Saginaw Street. Titled “The Water Crisis Through the Eyes of a Child,” the mural features a smiling President Barack Obama and ‘Little Miss Flint” Amariyanna Copeny.
“Before the mural went up there, you had some murders in the area, fires and people breaking windows,” Schipani said. “There was criminal activity almost on a daily basis, but since that art has gone up, crime went down on that block.”
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