Public art doesn’t just inspire, it builds resilience in our communities by creating opportunities for people to connect with each other and relate to spaces in new ways. Public art is also critical to supporting the creative economy by attracting foot traffic, creating jobs for artists and building wealth in neighborhoods. That’s why a core part of our mission is focused on supporting arts and cultural institutions. In Detroit, art and culture are foundational to what makes our city so unique.
Since 2017, we’ve supported 1XRUN, a community of artists, curators and art fans through a variety of programs. What began as a sponsorship of their Murals in the Market Festival (recently rebranded as Murals in Islandview) expanded into a partnership that brought the Small Business Murals Project to life. The goal of these public art initiatives has been to increase access to art in Detroit neighborhoods, and to support artists while elevating public spaces and local businesses with beautiful works of art.
“Our work with 1xRun advances our mission to increase universal access to arts and culture by bringing public art to Detroit neighborhoods,” said Jasmin DeForrest, Senior Director of Arts and Culture at the Gilbert Family Foundation. “Murals become beautiful wayfinding for neighborhoods and businesses, while creating moments of connection and reflection in community.”
The Small Business Murals Project, which we have also supported since launch in 2017, pairs artists with local business owners, who collaborate on a mural displayed on the façade of their business. Each year, we work with 1XRun to source the artists and Prosperous and TechTown to identify local businesses interested in a mural. The goal is twofold: the murals bring transformative, large-scale art to public spaces while supporting entrepreneurs whose businesses benefit from increased foot traffic.
Roula David, Founder and Executive Director of 1XRUN, believes that the relationship between the artists and the business owners is a prime example of how art builds connections between people and place. “The most meaningful part of the relationship is showing the art and commerce community how a true, collaborative partnership can work successfully,” she said.
The murals also serve a critical role in building community. “When these murals first go up, they are so personal for the artist and the business. But once the mural lives for a while, it becomes a visual part of the neighborhood and the community takes ownership of them in a certain way.”
This year, the Small Business Murals Project featured eight artists – including new artists and returning talent like Sheefy McFly and Freddy Diaz – to create new murals for new businesses. To date, the Small Business Murals project has supported 25 artists to create 32 murals for Detroit businesses.
Murals in the Market – rebranded Murals in Islandview following a change in location – invited 30 artists to create murals on the barren exterior walls of the new DTE Islandview substation. The mural painting was supplemented by special events including artist talks, solo exhibitions and a block party. Supporting the festival is another example of how we support arts and cultural institutions – and how critical that is to building communities that thrive.
“Art and culture is the heartbeat of a city. It’s what contextualizes history, experience, joy, and civic pride,” affirmed David. “There isn’t lot of private funding for programs like this and philanthropic organizations have a huge gap to fill. The Gilbert Family Foundation has supported 1XRUN and our public art venture for eight years, and we are so grateful for the collaboration and the support.”
(Main image (Moth): Murals in Islandview mural painted by artist Allision Scout).