Cody Rouge youth team up with artists to tell a different West Side story

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Powerful paintings and murals can be found on buildings all along Detroit’s main streets, from Woodward to Jefferson. But some Detroit residents, like 19-year-old Taylin Hodges, fear they’re representing only part of a story and want to see more positive artwork on city walls.

“The kind of mural we want to create is something the community needs,” Hodges says. “Because often when you see murals, they mightTaylin Hodges represent dark things or things that have to do with general things that aren’t quite happy. I want to add more color and more happiness to the community.

As a member of the Cody Rouge Community Action Alliance youth council, Hodges will work to make that happen. The Northwest Detroit nonprofit created the council to bring young people who live, work, or attend school or church in the Cody Rouge neighborhood to participate in the revitalization and empowerment of regional decision.

Last November, the CRCAA was awarded a to agree from Invest Detroit to lead a mural art program that will create eight murals along a stretch of West Warren Avenue. Between 10 and 25 young Detroiters will receive a stipend to participate in the project, working alongside various local artists as artistic liaisons; recently they selected their first, Marlo.

A previous mural by CRCAA youth Beautify West Warren

The members of the youth council were first interested in the beautification of the neighborhood while participating in the development of Detroit Future City Policy Framework plan. Over the years, CRCAA participants have participated in several murals, sculptures, and art projects in the Cody Rouge area with organizations like the College for Creative Studies (CCS). Each time it carries out a project, the group hasKenyetta Campbell has worked with Detroit-based artists, some of whom hail from the Cody Rouge neighborhood itself. Some of these works can be found at the St. Suzanne Cody Rouge Community Resource Center and Rouge Park.

Through a multi-year partnership with GM, Quicken Loans, the Skillman Foundation and DTE, CRCAA has also worked on renovations and art projects at neighborhood schools. CRCAA Director Kenyetta Campbell believes the projects are important to neighborhood pride.

“We wanted to make sure – because our neighborhood is one of those communities that is one of the first neighborhoods you enter when you reach the city from the southern border and the western border – that it is vibrant, she says. “People want to see a welcoming community.”

This is also why Marlo, 34, agreed to take over the implementation of the project. He is happy to see the murals created for and by Detroiters in and out of the Cody Rouge area.

“In general, Detroit needs community input on certain things,” he says. “We marlolive in a city that only gentrifies in certain areas. And they hire a lot of transplant artists from around the world to do stuff, and the community has very little say in what’s going on.”

Earlier this month, Marlo met with some of the youth council members who will be involved in the project. And it takes into account what they said they wanted to see.

“When you look around Detroit, it’s a very gray and dark landscape,” he explained. “Kids want to see more colors, more positive things, and art that isn’t just about the trauma of the black experience. And those are conversations that I hear just living in the city, outside of this project.

As the son of a painter and a musician, art is second nature to Marlo. The artist first picked up a brush before the age of 4 and has been doing it professionally since his early twenties. Working with young people is also something he is no stranger to. Working with both City Year Chicago and the Detroit Pistons youth program, Marlo has extensive experience in uplifting young voices.

“I’m very community-oriented, and this project gives kids in the community the opportunity to use their voice and learn something new,” says Marlo.

Khadijah Harris is one of the young Detroiters he will work with on the CRCAA’s West Warren Avenue mural project.

“[The murals] is going to brighten up the community and give young people a say in what’s going on, and when they’re older they can show their kids,” says Harris, 19.Khadija Harris She’s excited to put art on the walls and says projects like this are a much-needed change for Detroit because they highlight positivity in everyday life.

Hodges agrees.

“I can work with other young people to make the community a better place. That’s my favorite part,” she says. The nineteen-year-old is enthusiastic about taking part in the project. She had already been selected to work on another CRCAA mural at the end of 2019. Unfortunately, that ended up stopping when the pandemic started.

“I guess it gives me and my fellow youth council members a chance to see our mural dreams come to life,” Hodges says.

Harris and Hodges both want to pursue art beyond this project. Harris, who draws and paints, also owns a graphic design business and wants to run art classes for young people. Hodges wants to continue working on murals as a hobby and one day serve as an art instructor for young people.

CRCAA Youth Council members at Detroit City Hall. (City of Detroit)More art on the horizon

Participants in the West Warren Avenue mural project agree that the effort aims to give Detroit residents a say in what’s on their walls — something they say has done default in the past. Later this month, and again in March and April, the CRCAA will hold meetings to ask community members what they would like to see in the murals.

“We want to make sure young people voice their concerns and we want to open the door for residents to also highlight the kind of art they would like to see in the neighborhood,” says Campbell. “Being able to not only select the artists, but also being able to co-design the actual murals and be part of the implementation is very important because it shows ownership of the project.”

The CRCAA expects all eight murals to be completed in September. After that, they will start focusing on another new project. When the time comes, Campbell is ready to welcome even more creative minds with open arms.

“We have a lot of young children who are already enrolling in our program […] and many of them are artists,” says Campbell. “So we want to make sure that we continue to exhibit them and connect them to other artists, so that they have a path to art.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It is made possible thanks to funding from the Kresge Foundation.

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