The story behind the colorful new mural in downtown Lansing

A mural painter and a group of energetic young artists teamed up Tuesday to paint a bright future vision in downtown Lansing

Dustin Hunt, who led the project, has already scrawled his print on Lansing. Previously, he participated in the Below the Stacks 2019 wall festival, painting bespoke artwork across town with students from JW Sexton High School, Dwight Rich School of the Arts, and REACH Art Studio. He’s the mind behind the educational newbie Muralmatics, and uses math to teach young people the principles of scale and ratio as they paint murals together.

Now Hunt is working with East Lansing-based nonprofit Building Child and Family Initiatives to paint a 1,800-square-foot installation on a Granger Waste Services building in Michigan and Grand Avenue. The artist students aged 10 to 12, along with local artist Mila Lynn, are responsible for the lower half of the mural; Hunt takes care of the upper part with an elevator.

According to BCFI Board President Jamie Griggs, the project is just one part of several summer projects.

Hunt designed the mural based on drawings by his student staff. The picture shows four of the young artists who helped design it, along with quotes and sentences from the likes of Octavia Butler chosen by the students. It also includes calls for action on issues ranging from human trafficking, animal abuse to the creation of green spaces.

Najeema Iman’s daughter, Elise McMahan, is one of the four students whose likeness is shown on the mural.

“All of these children are different,” said Iman. “They have their own personality, their own flair, but they all flow together, just like the mural.”

Iman called them the “Children of 517”.

Muralmatics' Dustin Hunt speaks to young artists from the Kids of the 517 group who are painting a mural in downtown Lansing on Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

To create the mural, Hunt taught the students how to use ratios to scale their sketches for the wall. In addition to technical classes, Hunt held roundtables where students learned from each other as they designed the mural.

“We talked about imagining the future and there was cooking, there was flying and dancing,” said Hunt. “And so I spread out all of your sketches and notes from conversations and tried to put them together into something.”

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Much of the student-artist work on the mural came about after training sessions with BCFI and Hunt about large format painting and collaborating with others on the same project.

A detailed look at part of a mural of the Kids of the 517 on Tuesday, August 31, 2021 in downtown Lansing.

“What Dustin is doing is bringing what you might have learned in the classroom into the real world,” Iman said. “Who says one of the kids out here won’t be an art teacher … because they took art outside of the classroom.”

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Throughout Tuesday’s painting process, Hunt pulled student artists aside for advice, including Griggs’ own son, who helped with the mural.

Planning for the location began early this summer and required partnering with Downtown Lansing Inc. and finding a location for the project. DLI proposed the Granger Waste Services office building at 125 Grand Avenue.

Griggs said it was a prime location as people head towards the Capitol from the street.

A detailed look at part of a mural of the Kids of the 517 on Tuesday, August 31, 2021 in downtown Lansing.

The project also served as a neighborhood redevelopment initiative. Before starting to paint, the students were pulling weeds and clearing up rubble on the construction site. Granger, who still owns the unused property, completed the cleaning of the building himself.

The fate of the building remains in flux. Conditions inside are deteriorating and dangerous, Griggs said, in part due to broken glass left over from last summer’s protests. But no matter what happens next, the effect of the mural will live on, she said.

“We wanted (the mural) to be something that would make people think, ‘Our children are really important,'” she said.

Iman repeated the feeling.

Children of 517 member Elise McMahan, 11, are painting part of a mural in downtown Lansing on Tuesday, August 31, 2021.

“These are the people who will occupy these spaces,” Iman said of the student artists. “They’re going to occupy these offices, they’re going to eat down here, they’re the ones who will change this world. “

The group expects to finish on Friday.

Contact reporter Krystal Nurse at (517) 267-1344 or [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @KrystalRNurse.

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