The Flint Public Art Project is a city wide programme aimed at bringing art into the American city of Flint, Michigan. First starting in 2012 the project has gone some way to reinventing the city as an artistic hub. Certainly it’s street art is up there with some of the best places in the United States.
Re-invention is a key element of what the Flint Public Art Project is about. Not many other cities in the states have had to deal with the difficulties this city has had to endure. The birthplace of General Motors, the city has seen a significant reduction in its manufacturing industry since the 1970’s. More recently it’s water crisis put it on the map for the wrong reasons. Certainly the city has taken a hit and it’s something that art is helping to change.
Flint Public Art Project – Interview with Joe Schipani
From Water Crisis to Art
“The main point of the project is to change the narrative of the city from water crisis to art” says Joe Schipani. The Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project. He’s been in post since 2015 and has been instrumental in bringing well curated street art to the city. “The goal is to activate vacant spaces and help the city to imagine what those spaces could be” he tells me. Partnering with organisations across the area, it’s resulted in a significant number of new art initiatives.
According to Schipani, Flint has been overshadowed in recent years. The street art he says helps people to take notice again. It’s a trend which has seen the likes of the Nomad Clan visit three times over the last two years. Working with local businesses and students, they’ve painted five murals in the area. One of the best street art duos in the world, it’s resulted in quite a gallery of their work.
Street Art in Flint
It was 2017 that really saw muralism take off in the city. Partnerships with art organisations Indecline and COlabs saw an initial series of water crisis murals appear in the city. Acting as the catalyst, soon the city would play host to over a hundred. COlabs in particular have been key. Using their contacts they’ve linked up some talented artists to the Flint Public Art Project. It’s been a rich and valued partnership.
Curation though is key. Like many public art projects like this, it was important for the people of Flint to trust in the quality and suitability of the work. As such the understanding of the needs of the community, the wall owners and the artists becomes paramount. For Joe its’s about matching all those needs together. Often working with a theme it’s about getting the right artist with the right style whilst ensuring that the artists creativity isn’t stifled.
Ten Murals from Flint
Joe Schipani the Executive Director of the Flint Public Art Project chose ten murals to help illustrate the project. The murals below give a taste for the type of work to be found in the city.
‘Greetings from Flint’ – Indecline
A collaboration project with Indecline, COlabs, and Flint Public Art Project. The first of three water crisis murals that Indecline did in response to the water crisis in May of 2017. Since then members of Indicline have returned to Flint to create note murals for the project. This was also the start of the relationship between Colabs and Flint Public Art Project. Colabs has since brought several artists to Flint including Nomad Clan, Emily Ding and Slim Safont.
‘Escape – Kevin Burdick
Kevin Burdick, a local artist has been a regular feature on the Flint art scene. Talking about his mural ‘Escape’ he said, “that’s what my art is to me, an escape. I’ve got a pretty good life, amazing wife, healthy baby boy, great family and friends. Even with all this, it’s nice to escape sometimes to an imaginary world with no rules, especially these last few months. In this piece I have placed reminders of how lucky I am, the balloon with diamonds is a reference to my parents hot air balloon they had when I was growing up. The monkey is my little man John. The paper airplanes are for my wife, she constantly folds them wherever we go. And the cardinal leading the group represents father-in-law, taken from us way to early, but still showing us the way”.
Frida Kahlo – Charlie Boike
Charlie Boike is a local artist who is also an attorney by day. Painting in a predominantly Latin American part of the city, the choice of Frida Kahlo for the mural was chosen by the local Latin community. Painted in 2019 at the time it was Boike’s largest solo mural.
Representation Matters – Emily Ding
A mural by Emily Ding created as a workshop for the Flint Public Art Project with kids in a foster care facility. The two week long program allowed the kids to express themselves and to participate in a beautification project across the city.
Speaking about the project on Instagram, Emily Ding said “Representation matters! It shows us that diversity is reality, that everyone has a place in this world. If you see people that look, act, and speak like you, it’s empowering. If you grow up never seeing yourself reflected in TV, movies, books, or even murals, you can start to feel invisible, ignored, or unworthy. GOOD representation matters, too. Seeing our own colors, shapes, sizes, genders, cultures, is important – when they’re not exaggerated via stereotypes. Research, consult, and ask questions! Are you creating a reflection of reality, or just a caricature?”
Cork on Saginaw Mural – Keya Tama & Ellena Lourens
Keya Tama and Ellena Lourens are a couple of young, up and coming artists from South Africa but based in the USA. The duo created three pieces while they were in the city. This piece faces the main downtown strip and is on the side of the Cork on Saginaw restaurant. “I would want people to feel a sense of satisfaction when they look at (the mural) or some kind of catharsis,” said Tama speaking to Flintside.
Step Sisters – Slim Safont
Slim Safont is a young artist from Barcelona in Spain making a big splash in the mural world. The two girls in the photo are local children that live across the street from Joe. A remarkable artist you can see more from Slim Safont click here.
Latinx Community Center – Ms Yellow
Workshops are a key component of the Flint Public Art Project. Working with local people the mural by Ms Yellow was created in partnership with the Latinx Center in Flint. The children in the mural are enrolled in programs at the center. The flowers in the mural are local Flint flowers. These have been combined with flowers from Latin America to help show unity in the Latin American community. You can learn more from Ms Yellow about the background to this mural here.
24Bucks – Nate Dee
An artist from Miami, Nate Dee created 24Bucks which features the image of his friend Michael Grant. Seeing the image of Grant he wanted to try something different and chose to portray him as an artist complete with roller to help inspire future artists. According to Dee it plays with ideas or renewal, rebirth and growth. They are he says “themes that remind me of Flint”.
Local Wildlife – Senkoe
An artist from Mexico but based in Chicago. Senkoe visited for the Flint Public Art Project in the summer of 2019. Chosen for his particular spot due to his use of colour, it features a collage of local wildlife. The mural itself sits in an alleyway which can at times seems dark due to the larger buildings around. One of the largest murals in Flint it is also one of the most photographed, due to its high traffic location.
Joe Schipani was interviewed as part of the ‘Inspiring Interview‘ series in July 2020. He is the executive director of the Flint Public Art Project. All photographs unless already noted have been supplied by the project.
Murals to see in Flint, Michigan
- Indecline – Greetings from Flint
- Kevin Burdick – Escape
- Charlie Boike – Frida Kahlo
- Emily Ding – Representation Matters
- Slim Safont – Step Sisters
- Ms Yellow – Latinx Community Center
- Nate Dee – 24Bucks
- Senkoe – Wildlife Mural
- Nomad Clan – March to the Beat of Your Own Drum
- Keya & Ellena