New public art symbolizes revitalization of Grand Rapids' Southtown neighborhood

By: Deborah Johnson Wood

Nine mobile murals symbolizing the past, present, and future of Grand Rapids' Southtown neighborhood were unveiled Tuesday, October 30 at a press conference followed by a walking tour of the new art installments. Lighthouse Communities commissioned the murals through the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts to get young people involved in the revitalization of the neighborhood.

"We've been working to re-brand the neighborhood as Southtown," says Dave Allen, executive director of Lighthouse Communities. "With the renewed energy and development we thought what a cool opportunity to bring some kids in."

Some 20 art students, part of the UICA's ArtWorks program, spent two weeks hanging out in the neighborhood talking to residents and business owners and getting a feel for the area's character and history.

"The kids heard a lot from neighborhood residents about the unrest in the neighborhood in the '70s and '80s, and learned what it was like when African American moved into the neighborhood and whites left in droves," Allen says.

The "past" murals feature white birds flying out of the pictures, representing white flight. The "present" murals have birds of prey, representing predatory lenders that prey on Southtown. The "future" murals show brightly colored birds coming back, a beacon of hope, and a variety of skin colors depicting the area's multiculturalism.

The murals hang in groups of three. Throughout the coming months, Lighthouse will move the murals to places of revitalization within the neighborhood. Currently, the murals are on display at 1401, 1408, and 1414 Madison SE.

Source: Dave Allen, Lighthouse Communities

Deborah Johnson Wood is development news editor for Rapid Growth. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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