The City of Detroit’s North End just got a whole lot more colorful. And that’s all thanks to BLKOUT Walls—a mural festival led by Black artists—which launched its inaugural event back in July. Taking place over the course of a week, the festival brought a diverse group of local and visiting artists to work their magic on Detroit’s city streets. Now that all is said and done, more than 20 new murals grace the walls around the North End area, beautifying underutilized spaces throughout the neighborhood. These artworks bring with them the hopes that they will reinvigorate the district and “be the seed of an arts-based economic development, or creative economy” within the community.
The BLKOUT Walls Mural Festival was co-founded by Sydney G. James, a talented artist and Detroit native; Thomas “Detour” Evans, a Denver-based artist and creative; and Max Sansing, a prolific muralist from the South Side of Chicago. All three participated in the festival’s inaugural run. The idea for this new venture was born in direct response to their own shared experiences participating in mural festivals all over the country, where there is often very little racial diversity among the artists represented and no remuneration for those who participate. In contrast, they wanted to create a space where artists of color are adequately represented, where BIPOC voices and stories are amplified, and where artists could also receive economic support.
Living up to those inspiring ideals, the juried festival invited multi-cultural muralists from all over the U.S. to submit applications. For those selected, BLKOUT Walls also paid the lodging, meals, and transportation of each participating artist, in addition to a fee for their work. And according to their report, more than 75% of the producers and muralists who participated in the inaugural event were Black or people of color, mirroring the demographics of the city of Detroit “and thereby creating a cohort of artists representing equity and inclusion.”
Attracting thousands of visitors over the course of its week-long run, BLKOUT Walls was successful in more ways than one. And the sky’s the limit for the impact that it has had and will have, not only in Detroit but also as it expands to other cities across the country. Reflecting back on all the hopes, dreams, and hard work that went into it, its founders can’t help but be proud of their work and excited for the future.
“We found the festival to be impactful on multiple levels,” co-founder Sydney James tells My Modern Met. “Firstly, it has changed the look of Detroit's North End and provided new, interesting work for the community to engage with. It also was impactful for our team as we couldn't have imagined how many artists would make the trip to Detroit just to experience it. We were so thankful and in awe to have artists who were not on the roster make the pilgrimage from Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Colorado.”
“We're overwhelmed with gratitude for the artists, for the community for openly embracing our idea, for our partners who believed in our idea, and for everyone and anyone who shared it via social media or word-of-mouth,” adds another team member. “We hope to expand on it and make it even better next year. We're proud of our team. As for what's next, we hope to make the event an annual occurrence with a biannual festival in Detroit, like a family reunion, and events around the world in the in-between years. We've had people reach out from all over the U.S., including Chicago, Oakland, Memphis, Boston, Atlanta, and Charleston.”
To keep up with BLKOUT Walls and where it’s going next, give them a follow on Instagram. For more information about the inaugural event and its participating artists, visit their website. If you happen to be in Detroit, you can check out the incredible murals for yourself with help from their illustrated map. In the meantime, scroll down to see images of some of the stunning artworks.