Photo Diary: Paint Every Wall

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Found in alleys, on walls, trains, trucks and billboards, street art exposes a place’s conscience on a public canvas. These works often reach more people, and certainly a more diverse audience, than art trapped in galleries or museums. Murals in the Market embraces this notion. The week-long event held in Detroit’s Eastern Market invites local and global artists to beautify the buildings that comprise this historic neighborhood. An area known for its food and flower markets, kitschy diners, and dives, Eastern Market is rapidly becoming a creative outpost. But Murals in the Market is an important effort for other reasons, too.

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A wall in progress by “Denial” faces Eastern Market’s major thoroughfare.

As Detroit officials invest time and resources cracking down on graffiti artists—while many of the city’s other inhabitants struggle in the shadows, their homes crumbling, their bills unpaid—Murals in the Market sends a message to city officials. It celebrates the value of street art while offering artists a legitimate space to present their work. Some pieces—by people who at one time or another were indeed running from police for painting their art on public walls—are potent protests against racial injustice and government corruption.

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The work of Sydney G. James from the 2016 Murals in the Market.
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A piece by “Syntex” protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline.

“As an artist, in the past couple years it’s like I have finally been able to come out,” Tavar Zawacki told me. The Berlin resident is among the cadre of street artists who once painted in the still of the night and went only by a pseudonym. Today, like many artists with a street genesis, his works now hang in galleries and are part of mural festivals like this one.

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Tavar Zawacki gets up to get down.

Talking with paint splattered artists like Zawacki and curious passersby, I inhaled a sense of pride for my former city. This was not the withering metropolis I remember from 10 years ago. It was a glimpse into Detroit’s potential future, which in some ways rests on the shoulders of these folks: the indefatigable creative class.

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