Mural project aims to reclaim southside Grand Rapids neighborhoods

“These artists will turn these walls into canvases containing this liberated art that is hopefully destined to reclaim our neighborhoods.”

An anti-racist art project on the south side of Grand Rapids aims to empower students and community stakeholders to change the narrative and reclaim zip code 49507.

“The Southwest and Southeast sides have a beauty and culture not found anywhere else in West Michigan. It’s specific to our region, it’s beautiful, it’s powerful, and all too often we just hear the bad stories that happen in our neighborhood happen, “said Marcel” Fable “Price, the executive director of The Diatribe, the non-profit that runs the project.

The 49507 project is a multi-year, multi-faceted project that begins with murals by seven black and brown artists in companies that are predominantly owned by colored people.

The project gives hope to business owner Angelica Velazquez, who says she has called the South Division Corridor her home for more than two decades – she has seen little change or investment in the community she loves.

She wants this change to be in the hands of those who live and work there.

“I think this is now a great opportunity to improve something for this community and an opportunity for us to grow too,” said Velazquez, who owns La casa de la Cobija.

The Diatribe team started the 49507 project in the classroom earlier this year, and as the project grows there are more opportunities for community support.

The process

Beginning in February, Diatribe members worked with the West Michigan Fair Housing Center to teach Ottawa Hills High School students about gentrification, redlining and housing discrimination on the Writing to Right Wrongs curriculum. Included in the lesson is the history of the Grand Rapids housing market, dating back to the 1930s.

“There were great places in Grand Rapids that were classified as dangerous and unworthy investments and the only reason they were designated that way is because the people were black and brown which is why there is so little generational wealth in relation to ours Black and brown quarters, “said Price, who is also the former Grand Rapids poet-winner.

The nine-week program ended with listening sessions with the seven artists, who drew on the students’ ideas to create murals that represent their neighborhoods.

The wall painters asked the students a series of questions: “If you had art that would reclaim your neighborhood, what would it be like?”

At the end of the month, The Diatribe, with the support of the Garfield Park Neighborhood Association and the Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, will host four community listening sessions with over 100 community stakeholders. The paid listening sessions will help educate the artists before they design their murals later this year.

A grant has also enabled paid acquisitions of over 5,500 homes in the Garfield Park neighborhood.

“We’re going to ask them like, ‘Hey, how do you want to see your neighborhood change and develop?'” Price said.

The information gathered through this project serves as a blueprint for change that will be created by those living in the community.

How to get involved

The Garfield Park Neighborhood Association is looking for advertisers for this project, these are paid jobs. People can contact their managing director, Angela Cluley, to apply: [email protected]

People who are bilingual are strongly encouraged to apply due to the demographics of the neighborhood, Price said.

People who want to volunteer and help with wall preparation can email [email protected]

If people want to contribute to the project, they can do so here:


The murals

“These artists are going to turn these walls into canvases that contain this liberated art that is hopefully destined to reclaim our neighborhoods,” Price said.

The seven confirmed wall painters and companies include:

“This year we’re doing seven murals, next year we might be doing seven to ten murals, but if we can get the city to classify the south side as a multicultural arts district and we can get 10% of the development we have every year Sculptures and art projects done black and brown and bringing the money to our school. Can you imagine how our neighborhood would visually change? “Price said.

For Velazquez, she is ready to see better community opportunities, like a youth center she has long dreamed of.

“I am proud and blessed to be in this corridor and to be part of this community,” she said.

The 49507 project was supported by the Steelcase Foundation, the Frey Foundation, Spectrum Health, the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, the Weg Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and others.

Visit The Diatribe’s website to find out more.

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