Time is running out to catch the Flint Mural Plays this summer

FLINT, Michigan -- The COVID-19 pandemic has created major challenges for people and organizations in all facets of life. But in the creative and artistic realm, it has also created an opportunity to experiment with new methods of storytelling.

In June, Flint Repertory Theatre and the Flint Public Art Project partnered to present ‘Flint Mural Plays,’ 25 world premiere micro audio plays, including some by local playwrights from the University of Michigan-Flint. The plays are accessible at 25 Flint Public Art Project murals throughout the city and can be listened to through the PixelStix platform

But time is running out to see them -- the plays close on August 31. This weekend actually represents a good opportunity to see them, as several of the murals are located near the Crim Festival of Races race course.

“This is an example of the performing arts world and the mural arts world coming together,” said Matthew Walker, CEO of the Tampa, Florida,-based PixelStix company. “I flew up here just to experience these.”

Locations of the plays are available online. The plays are grouped together into four “galleries” by region of the city. There are eight in the downtown area near Saginaw Street, seven in Carriage Town, five on Flint’s northside, and five on the eastside. 

The PixelStix app makes it easy to access audio of the plays at the mural locations, either by walking up to the mural and scanning a code on the plaque with your phone or from a vehicle by connecting to bluetooth. 

PixelStix partnered with Flint Public Art Project to create the ability to provide artist information and other details about murals in the city more than a year ago. That technology was able to be used for the mural plays this year.

Walker spent time in the city in August interacting with the plays and seeing how the platform he and his team built worked with the audio play format. 

“There’s a whole style they used in the audio of these performances to really embellish and almost create like this sense that you’re on a set,” he said.

Walker also pointed out that having both art and theatre performances in outdoor spaces all summer has been vital for people in need of safe things to do during the pandemic.

“This is an open outdoor gallery and it is the best remedy for how to get access to art and also be safe during a pandemic because you can remain socially distant, you can use your car, so it is, it is the perfect way to provide those art resources to people in a situation where you can't get them into closed spaces,” he said.

The plays have also given new reasons to revisit murals they may have seen before. “Some of these murals were done in 2019, and now two years later, there’s a completely different reason for people to come back to them,” Walker said. “So you’re reactivating every single one of these spaces by adding fresh content to the experience.”

When approaching a mural that has a play associated with it on foot, with the PixelStix app open, simply tap the ‘P’ and touch the phone to the plaque for the play information to come up. The audio can then be played from your phone. In a vehicle or walking in one of the gallery areas, the map function in the app can help you find the murals and the plays in the app.

“I had no idea that it (the mural plays) was going to be this rich,” Walker said. “It's a really, really wonderful way to breathe imagination into a piece. It creates a completely different narrative about the piece. It's just this pollination of different art forms that hasn't yet had a chance to exist. And that's why the rest of the art world, specifically performing arts, is like, what's going on in Flint is really cool, you know?”

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.