Ashley McFadden holding sketch
Ashley McFadden sketch, “Detroit Summer,” will be among the murals going up around Detroit this summer as part of its City Walls program (BridgeDetroit photo by Micah Walker)

The focus of Ashley McFadden’s next piece of artwork is a honeybee. 

In her sketch called “Detroit Summer,” the 34-year-old east side resident has an enlarged bee front and center, with yellow, green and orange paint splattered in the background. McFadden said the piece tells the story of the city’s farming communities, with the background colors representing a vegetable garden on the west side and the bee representing its economical benefits to the community. 

Soon, the sketch will not only be seen and analyzed by McFadden, but people throughout the city when it’s transformed into a mural. 

McFadden was one of 25 artists selected for the 2023 City Walls program Mayor Mike Duggan announced Wednesday during a news conference at the east side art gallery and bar Spot Lite. The artists will create murals at 23 locations across Detroit. 

“We’re going to get a chance for their vision to be celebrated for decades and decades in the City of Detroit,” Duggan said. “We used to have people come to town with spray cans to spray paint graffiti. Now they come to town to appreciate the beautiful art that Detroiters have done.”

The City Walls program began in 2017 and ties into Duggan’s “Blight to Beauty” campaign in an effort to replace graffiti art with murals on city buildings. Since the program’s inception, more than 70 artists have created over 125 murals in Detroit. 

2023 selected City Walls mural artists sketches displayed at Spot Lite Detroit on April 12, 2023. (City of Detroit photo) 

For this year’s class, the process was competitive, with the city receiving 300 submissions, said Zak Meers, director for the city’s Blight Remediation Division. 

However, a second round of artist selections will open next month, with awards being granted in July. In total, more than $500,000 will go toward artist murals across the city this summer.

The Godfrey Hotel, which is still under construction, contributed $67,500 for two murals–one consisting of seven stories and the other two stories, according to a news release. Both murals will be created based on feedback from previous community engagement meetings, said Raquel Harrington, a communications coordinator for the City of Detroit. Three to four meetings were held for each mural location earlier this year as a way for the city and residents to come up with a vision together. 

Seth Herkowitz, COO at Farmington Hills-based home builder Hunter Pasteur and a member of the hotel’s development team, announced that artists Trae Issac and Jacob Dwyer will take on the Godfrey murals. 

“We chose to work with City Walls because we felt leveraging community engagement for Zak’s deep ties to local Detroit artists can ultimately lead to the best result,” he said. “There were so many talented local artists that had submitted proposals, but we really felt both Jacob and Trae best captured the themes that were highlighted during our discovery sessions with the community, including Corktown’s history, its distinctive identity, its resilience and its future growth and progress.”

Issac said he has been an artist for 16 years and that art is his passion and purpose in life. 

“I appreciate this and I look forward to getting started,” he said. 

In addition to the Godfrey Hotel, the city is funding a $20,000 commission for a mural in Stein Park at West Chicago and Stahelin Avenue on Detroit’s west side. Fel’le, a 2022 open call winner, will create the artwork. He said during the news conference that he’s a full-time artist who hasn’t had a day job since he was 16 years old. 

“That’s the one thing about artists, we love what we do,” Fel’le said. “Having the opportunity to be able to put some of these fabulous murals in a city that we love so much, in the city that means so much to the world, is a fabulous opportunity. 

“I am definitely honored to be one of the artists to be able to tell my story on these walls in the City of Detroit,” Fel’le added. 

Another mural location this year is the Corktown Substation at Trumbull and Porter. DTE Energy is funding $75,000 for the mural project. Spot Lite owner Roula David, who is partnering with DTE under her organization 1xRun, announced artist and illustrator Jesse Kassel as the winner of that project. 

“Public art is really essential in Detroit and gives the city a narrative that other cities don’t have because we tell our story through painted signs, through murals,” she said. 

The mural locations for the 21 other artists were not announced. However, Invest Detroit, a nonprofit community development financial institution that supports area business and real estate projects, will fund more than $200,000 in mural projects along the Dexter Corridor and the Gratiot and 7 Mile Road areas, the news release noted.  

McFadden, a previous participant in the City Walls program, told BridgeDetroit that opportunities like this help reinforce  who she is as an artist. 

“It just gave me that confirmation to not give up just because I did this one thing,” she said. “People are still looking at my art. It’s really solidifying that this is legitimately my dream. This is how I can become a full-time artist.” 

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