MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative bringing ‘monumental works’ to city

The journey to One Drop started in 2019, when the Women’s Division Chamber of Commerce (WDCC) approached Judy Hayner of the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative (MCPAI) with the idea of a major work of art in honor of the group’s 70th anniversary in 2021. 

“Part of Women’s Division’s mission is community beautification. My mission, as the director of the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative, is to commission major, monumentally scaled works of public art,” Hayner says. “It was a good fit!” 

One Drop, created by Marc Moulton, was inspired by the WDCC and by how individual efforts when combined become major triumphs. The sculpture is a simple form built from rhythmic streams of individual pieces, illustrating how many individual elements together create a dynamic whole. It also symbolizes our beautiful and nearby waters. 

The sculpture is 27 feet tall and made up of individually cut pieces of tinted prismatic steel assembled on a structure of steel, lit dusk to dawn with LED lighting. The WDCC dedicated Muskegon’s newest work of public art on July 21.

Part of 10-project plan

MCPAI, which began in 2018, is a project of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County and is responsible for the commissioning and development of 10 monumental works of public art in the Muskegon area. It has leveraged an initial commitment of $25,000 per installation made by philanthropist and major fan of Muskegon Patrick O’Leary — totaling $150,000 so far — to a total of $923,046. Of that, 82% has been private donations, 14% Michigan art and community development funds, and 4% city and county funds.

Six of the 10 projects are complete, with the two most recent projects unveiled recently. “What Defines Muskegon,” by Dr. Hubert Massey of Detroit, was completed in May 2022, and One Drop was installed at the VanDyk Mortgage Convention Center the week of July 18 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the WDCC. Both projects are based on topics well-studied by the artists before creation.

“‘What Defines Muskegon’ was created after a series of extensive community forums,” Hayner explains. “We met with a wide diversity of Muskegon area residents; young, old, professional, blue-collar, employed, unemployed, Black, white, Hispanic. We had six forums, which were widely advertised. As Dr. Massey began to develop his ideas for the sculpture, we had several feedback sessions with the same participants. 

“It was truly a remarkable collection of people and perspectives and stories, some unique and some commonly held experiences across those groups. Based on the final product, I think that you can indeed see what defines Muskegon.”

Telling the community’s story

Massey’s mural measures 65 feet by 12 feet and was painted in oils on aluminum composite panels. It is on the exterior wall of the Trinity Health Arena in downtown Muskegon. 

According to the MCPAI’s press release, the mural is the visual story that “highlights the continuing presence of the indigenous tribal peoples, our lumbering boom and the industrial waves of progress that followed, and  the impact of the Great Migration on our community in the 1930s and 1940s, which helped to fuel Muskegon’s remarkable contribution to the war years, our present and rich diversity, and the transformation of our community into this vibrant and diverse place rich with opportunity, culture, and an incredibly rich natural environment.”

While Massey had never been to Muskegon before, he is a Michigan native, hailing from Flint and a graduate of Grand Valley State University. He is a muralist, fresco, and mosaic artist who is known nationwide for his art.

Artist selection process

The artists and projects are each commissioned in their own way.

“Each project is different,” Hayner says. “The city was interested in a large-scale Muskegon history-highlighting mural on the arena, and I was familiar with Dr. Hubert Massey’s work at Grand Valley and Detroit. I knew that he could execute something like that, and he seemed a natural choice. 

“Of the six projects we have completed, his is the only one that involved a pre-selected artist. Our others have all involved requests for proposals sent out to artists who have experience with creating large-to-monumentally scaled public art and to Michigan college and university art departments.”

Once the proposals are received, an extensive review process involves the Downtown Arts Committee, a group formed in 2005 by the Community Foundation for Muskegon County. In the case of One Drop, the WDCC was part of the review process. Of the 12 works submitted for consideration, Moulton’s sculpture was unanimously chosen by the WDCC and the Downtown Arts Committee.

For each project, Hayner identifies local artists who have done similar large-scale works and sends them a request for proposal. Thanks to her years at the Muskegon Museum of Art, Hayner is familiar with the local Muskegon-area artist community and can reach out accordingly. However, it can be difficult to find local artists who have the experience or materials to create sculptures as large as those desired for the rest of the MCPAI project. 

Planning for next projects

With projects five and six complete, Hayner is already looking ahead to project seven. 

“We are planning for a 12-foot bronze sculpture for Rowan Park in downtown Muskegon Heights,” Hayner says. “The sculpture will pay tribute to the remarkable story and history of the Muskegon Heights Marching Band, which was a huge point of pride in that small community. It will be completed by a Muskegon-area artist experienced with large-scale figurative bronze castings. We plan on installation for the fall of 2023.”

Previous works completed by the MCPAI since July 2018 include the sculptures Moxie and Mastodons on the Loose at the Lakeshore Museum Center, A City Built on Timber at Heritage Landing, Celebrating Muskegon at Pere Marquette Park, and the four murals on two Seaway Drive rail bridges comprising the “Muskegon Rails” Project. 

Hayner anticipates that projects eight, nine, and 10 will be sculptures, and that artists who would like to be added to the MCPAI list can email Hayner with their experience, examples of their work, and their contact information to [email protected].