She is larger than life, alluring, and hauntingly beautiful. A Japanese Geisha, standing about 16 feet tall and cloaked in a collage of colors and graffiti, stares endlessly at passersby in the alley now known as ‘The Belt’ – which cuts through The Z. The stunning mural, sure to make people stop and return the gaze, is just one of the many breathtaking works created for Detroit’s newest public art experience (between Grand River and Gratiot Avenues in what was once the city’s garment district). Bedrock Real Estate Services and the fine art gallery Library Street Collective worked together to bring The Belt to life with the help of more than a dozen of the best artists in the world.
“This is what major cities have,” said Dan Mullen, Bedrock’s Vice President of Leasing and Development. “They have these unique destinations that are slightly mysterious. You go down an alley and there’s art from national and international artists. I think people will be blown away when they see this.”
Members of the media were invited to attend a sneak preview of The Belt Nov. 13. The space officially opens to the public with food trucks, live music and a big celebration on Saturday, Nov. 15 from 5pm-7pm. Reporters saw firsthand how a concrete cobblestone
walkway was installed along with a canopy of lights to create an intimate atmosphere. They also watched as a group of middle school students from Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences worked with a rainbow of spray paint colors to complete a mural with Chicago-based artist Jordan Nickel, aka POSE. The mural includes the words “LIFELONG LEARNER.” Kente Willis, 13, an 8th grader whose fingers ended up tinged with green paint, stepped back to admire his work.
“Art inspires me because it’s a great feeling when you create something new,” he said. “This matters because this is the future. It’s going to make Detroit better.”
Samantha Johnson, 13, was also impressed with the outcome. She painted the letters “E” and “I” and added some background decorations. POSE seemed to be having a blast watching the students enjoy their creative freedom.
The Detroit Academy of Arts & Sciences, a Detroit-based charter school which views artistic development as central to each child’s education, is a community partner in The Belt project. One of the large scale paintings from Public Matter will be donated to the school and displayed in a common area. Another mural will be auctioned off to raise money for a local charity.“This is their city – they’re leaving their mark,” he said. “This type of experience shows them how they can help shape history and have a positive effect on their community, their environment and the world.”
A Vibrant Future
The Belt is a work in progress. It will continue to evolve over time just like downtown Detroit itself. Future plans include the addition of European food carts, an alley bar and furniture.
“It’s going to be a hangout,” Mullen said. “Arts and culture and innovation have been a huge part of the city’s birth from the beginning and this just plays off that really well. It adds to everything that’s already here.”
In addition to the large Geisha, a smaller one, and the students’ design, the thought-provoking murals on the walls include a row of tribesman who grow larger in size as they march onward and upward. Another mesmerizing scene depicts a barren, otherworldly forest created by contemporary artist and designer Dave Kinsey, known for his emotionally charged works. Other contributing artists include Tristan Eaton, Nick Jaskey, Cleon Peterson, HUSH, Patrick Martinez, ROIDS, REVOK and VHILS. POSE’s work, displayed on five large steel frames strategically placed throughout the alley, is part of a pop-up, rotating exhibit called “Public Matter.” The art within those frames will change every six months.
“Exhibiting at Public Matter represents things coming full circle for me in the best possible way as an artist,” Nickel explains. “Putting work on the street is a way for people to view it in the most honest way. There are no barriers to entry or prerequisites to viewing. It’s just there. Everyone owns it and everyone can have their own dialogue with it. It is completely accessible – it’s an open forum.”“Public art is centrally important to the artists we work with and it’s equally important to us,” added Library Street Collective partner Anthony Curis. “Public Matter is part of our continuous effort to ensure that artists have a space to create and engage with the public in Detroit.”
The Belt will remain free and open to everyone all year round. Nearby attractions include Punch Bowl Social (a gastro-diner featuring bowling, video games and other activities, set to open Dec. 10), the restaurant 7 Greens, retailer Nojo Kicks, Citizen Yoga, and the one-of-a-kind murals of The Z garage. The entire project is meant to inspire. It’s an illustration of how a neglected, empty space can be transformed with a little love and creativity – much the same way The Belt’s brick walls became masterpieces with imagination, passion, and the desire to make a difference.