Viva La Vida by Ivan Montoya

Here's how to get a city-sponsored mural on your building.

Lacey Holmes
Submitted on

If you've driven around Detroit in recent years, you've probably noticed a proliferation of murals on commercial buildings.

That's been on purpose, a tactic officials have deployed as part of the City Walls program, considered a beautification and blight remediation strategy that's also one piece of a larger effort to tackle blight through things like murals, alley cleanup and other efforts in Detroit's vast network of commercial corridors.

They've certainly not just been cropping up in Eastern Market, long known for its constellation of public art pieces.

A large recent one at Mack and Van Dyke called "The Spirit" by Waleed Johnson is an eye-catcher, for example (there is a handy map that can be a good way to lose an hour or two).

So what if you're the owner of a commercial building in Detroit and you want to participate?

First, there are some ground rules, said Zak Meers, division head for the blight remediation division, which oversees City Walls.

"So as a property owner, if you're going to donate your wall, then you're part of a process," Meers said. "You're one vote in a larger conversation. It's public-facing art."

An FAQ for building owners recently posted to the city's website says there are a few community engagement meetings, and it generally takes three to four months to produce. The city also notes that for property tax purposes, murals will not be considered improvements, so that won't affect your tax bill.

In addition, the mural curated — at no cost to the building owner — has to fit within some guidelines.

I'll use a couple examples Meers did: If you're a landlord and you have a dog you really love, you can't have a muralist paint the dog on your building. Likewise, if you're a plumbing company with a building, the mural cannot be a toilet as that could be considered an advertisement.

The City Walls program has been around since 2017 and has a budget this year of $400,000 from the general fund; in addition, it has another $400,000 from private funding, Meers said.