Get a feel for Motor City’s unique character with these 10 public art works.
Detroit is a city known for its public art that is as creative, unique, and resilient as its community. In honor of world-renowned artist and Detroit-native Charles McGee’s memory, we’ve rounded up 10 of the most stunning murals by Black artists around Detroit, his work included.
1. Detroit Foundation Hotel Mural
Artist and muralist Charles McGee started this colorful, geometric mural all the way back in 1974, but it eroded and almost fully disappeared after years of neglect and weather taking its course. In 2019, artists Hubert Masey and Henry Heading decided to lead a renovation of the mural to its original state in honor of McGee’s legacy of work around Detroit. He was even given the 2019 Legacy Award from the non-profit Michigan Legacy Art Park. The mural has now been restored and can be seen on the east-facing side of the Detroit Foundation Hotel.
Where: 250 W Larned St, Detroit, MI 48226
2. Crossroad of Innovation
During the summer of 2018, Hubert Massey created this fresco-style painting at the riverside entrance of the Grand Riverside Ballroom in Cobo Center. The public watched as Massey created this mural–with a technique that involves painting with water-based paint directly on plaster so that both paint and plaster meld together. The mural is an important statement for the community of Detroit, depicting images that represent vitality and community.
Where: 1 Washington Blvd, Detroit, MI 48226
3. Ann Arbor Art Center Mural
Chazz Miller has long been an infamous artist and educator in Detroit, and is the founder of organizations such as Motor City Blight Busters and Detroit Public Art Workz that promote community restoration and art. A more recent mural of Miller’s is the one at the Ann Arbor Art’s Center. This mural came to life through collaboration with the teenagers who are a part of the Neutral Zone, a community that promotes personal development through art for teenagers. The mural, depicting two heads facing each other with a flurry of colorful butterflies between them, is a lovely addition to the art center.
Where: 117 W Liberty St, Ann Arbor, MI 48104
4. Malice Green Mural
An iconic Detroit mural that depicts a victim of police brutality, Malice Green, who died in 1992. In this mural, Green is also holding up a scroll with the names of other victims scrawled, as well as the important reminder to “say their names.” The names only go back as far as 2014, and still there is almost 1,000 of them. The Malice Green mural maybe be one of the most sobering and impactful murals in the city.
Where: 16065 Hamilton Ave #2728, Highland Park, MI 48203
5. Unity North Mural
Though not a sculpture, it is one of McGee’s amazing contributions to his city during his lifetime. The Unity North sculpture was unveiled in 2018 at the North Rosedale Park Community House to an audience of people who have recognized and loved his work for years. McGee, a Detroit native since he was 10, impacted a community with his art. If you feel inclined, why not take a drive around the city to admire McGee’s impactful public works?
Where: 18445 Scarsdale St. Detroit, MI 48223
6. Girl With The D Earring
Sydney G. James is one of Detroit’s most iconic mural artists living there today. A Detroit-native, she has artwork across the city, as well as in others like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and even Ghana. When commissioned to paint a mural on a building as big as the Chroma, James took the opportunity to paint a Black woman, her friend, Halima Cassell, in a revisioned style of an infamous painting by Johannes Vermeer, Girl With A Pearl Earring. But James ran with a theme that honored Black beauty and Detroit itself with the huge focal point–the ‘D’ earring.
Where: 2937 E Grand Blvd, Detroit, MI 48202
7. Unity Mural
2017 was the year that Charles McGee unveiled his 11-story mural titled, ‘Unity,’ his biggest mural after seven decades of work. It stands at 118 feet long by 50 feet wide and is painted using bold black and white and unique shapes that fit together to create a bigger, more impactful image. The idea behind the mural was to depict the connectivity of a community where everyone fits a bit differently and in their own way. McGee was 92 when he created this ambitious piece, and intended to create more innovative installations. Unfortunately, the artist passed away on February 5th 2021, but the city will always be able to remember and honor his legacy.
Where: 28 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48226
8. Issa Rase Mural
Desiree Kelly is the muralist behind this vibrant and colorful ode to one of Issa Rae’s (creator of the TV show Insecure) most iconic quotes from a red carpet event. “I’m rooting for everybody Black,” she said in a quote that is now painted in The Avenue of Fashion. Desiree Kelly is a Detroit native that has a unique style that often depicts pop culture icons from Rae to Biggie Smalls. Check it out, then head over to Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles for a bite to eat.
Where: 19345 Livernois, Detroit, MI 48221
9. Patterns of Detroit
Another of Massey’s murals can be seen on a wall of the parking structure of the College for Creative Studies. The 3,000 square foot mural is in a mosaic pattern. The mural was created in collaboration with a multitude of community members through discussions and participation, but the central image of a mother and child was painted by Massey himself.
Where: 201 E Kirby St, Detroit, MI 48202
10. The Detroit Chimera
Kobie Solomon’s mural of a chimera may still be unfinished, but it’s still incredibly striking, and so large that it can be seen from Interstate 75. Solomon is a Detroit-native and mixed media artist who painted the chimera to symbolize community through a mythological creature that is a hybrid of different animals. Normally, a chimera part lion, goat, and dragon, but Solomon used a lion, tiger, and falcon to represent Detroit’s official sports teams. The mural has been around for over a decade now, and is one of the largest in Michigan.
Where: 1600 Clay St, Detroit, MI 48211
[featured image via Sydney G. James]