Revitalizing Detroit with public art (with slideshow)

Jul 15, 2011

Artists in Seattle and Philadelphia have been painting large murals on abandoned buildings in an effort to revitalize neighborhoods. Philadelphia for example, has around 2,000 murals to help brighten the city.

Chazz Miller is the guy behind Public Art Workz. It’s a non-profit organization based in Old Redford, a working class neighborhood in Detroit. Miller’s mission is to revitalize Detroit by painting murals across the city. He’s only been painting here for a few years, but he says he’s already noticed a difference.

“It was rough. I got car jacked around here in 1999. There would be so many people coming up behind you trying to sell you drugs, prostitution, it was just bad. The alleys smelled bad, now literally at night time we have kids playing in the alley.”

Miller grew up in Detroit. After high school he moved to Ohio for art school, and to work in the commercial art industry. When he moved back to Detroit in 2007, he says the city looked dark and grey and wanted to give it color. He started with little projects - painting homes and bathrooms. But eventually he wanted something more. Miller decided he would dedicate his time to painting murals and focused his efforts in Old Redford.

Miller says art has helped this area come to life by creating a sense of pride. He says his murals have even brought in new businesses.

 “You want to create a place and a sense of place and that’s how you start rebuilding a community with your art because now with that care people feel like ‘okay someone’s taking pride, someone cares about this neighborhood, maybe I’m willing to invest’ so now we have over 5 new businesses that opened up in this immediate area.”

Paul Bologna owns a barbershop just a few doors down from Miller’s studio. He’s been working here since the late 1950s. Bologna says while he has noticed the murals, he doesn’t think art can bring in revenue to the city like businesses do.

“The place looks a little cleaner, people are different than they were before but still it hasn’t bring it up to where it was before. It will never be what it used to be.”

While the area isn’t to where it was 6 decades ago, Miller says his art is bringing hope back to the blighted area.

Miller says his next art project is to create a series of large murals on four and five story buildings in downtown Detroit. He wants people in the area to help out and paint what he calls “love letters to Detroit” across the city.

Emily Fox- Michigan Radio News