Detroit launches effort and an app to document all of city's murals
Over the summer, USA Today, the nation’s largest newspaper, declared Detroit the No. 4 city in the United States for street art — ahead of places like New York, Chicago and Miami. Now the city is in hot pursuit of the No. 1 spot on the list.
The city’s Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship has launched an initiative that empowers residents and tourists to use their smartphones to identify Detroit murals and artists and include them in an official registry. The new site and map launched Friday at detroitartsandculture.com. A video about the efforts will air at 10 a.m. Sunday on “Flashpoint” on WDIV-TV (Channel 4).
CANVS, an art technology company, has joined with Detroit's arts and culture office and now has 225 area murals logged in its app, with more being added regularly. The company contracted with the city earlier this year and has since expanded to more than 100 cities with more than 2,000 murals identified.
The app allows users to zoom in on their location on a map and see where murals are located nearby. They can also identify murals farther away for planning purposes. When a user taps on one of the mural location dots, it reveals information about the artist and the mural itself, along with links to the artist’s website and social media. A helpful function offers directions to the mural address via Google Maps or Apple Maps.
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Anyone with the app can hunt down and add new murals into the system. Once they're added by a user, the entries are vetted by the CANVS team to ensure that they meet the city's standards (such as no profanity or drug references) and that the information is correct with the artists. They are then included on the app map.
CANVS co-founder Ralph Andre described it as “a Wikipedia of murals, a catalog of all the street art in Detroit, added by the people within the city — and even visitors.”
What makes Detroit street art so special?
“A lot of the themes are around inspiration and community uplift,” Andre said. “And it’s something that resonates within the community, reflects the embodiment of the community. So they see it, they feel it, and they relate to it. Murals are eye candy. They look good, which is great, right? But you know, in the case of Detroit, where the mural has a story embedded into it and a story that inspires you and speaks to you, it’s appreciated 10 times more than in any other city.”
Detroit artist Ijania Cortez, who has multiple creations listed in the app, proved his point. Before painting a mural, she walks through the neighborhood where she plans to work and talks with longtime residents, sometimes even going door to door. She often ends up choosing her subjects from those residents, splashing their faces large across the side of a building they pass every day.
“All of my murals are about community,” she said. “All of my murals have to do with the people who live in the actual community that my murals are seen in.”
Of course, sometimes buildings with murals on them are torn down. Those murals will be preserved via the CANVS app with a photo and information.
“So, let’s say that five years now, nobody wants (a particular) building and it gets torn down,” said Rochelle Riley, director of Detroit's arts and culture office. “We won’t lose the art. It’ll say on the app; this is where it existed.”
The mural archival partnership with CANVS is sponsored by the Ford Foundation and will continue with assistance from the city’s public art fund. Whenever companies or individuals put up a large sign or advertisement in the city of Detroit, they must contribute a fee to the public art fund; the city, in turn, uses that money to fund and track more murals.
Riley encouraged artists who want to create a mural or property owners who want a mural on a building to contact her office.
“Part of my job,” she said, “is to make sure that I am nurturing and making it easy for artists to make a living. My goal is to make sure that anybody who is an artist of any kind, whether they are a stage actor or a gig musician or a painter or muralist, that they do not have to do something else and have to do this as a hobby. We have some emerging artists who are fantastic.”
Contact Free Press arts and culture reporter Duante Beddingfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @DBFreePress.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Detroit launches effort and an app to document all of city's murals