Detroit declares war on murals, goes after popular Grand River Creative Corridor

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Update: Mayor Duggan apologizes, lifts fines

The Grand River Creative Corridor has transformed drab, abandoned buildings into colorful works of art on Detroit’s west side, drawing international acclaim and becoming a model for combatting blight.

So it came as a big surprise Monday when building owners on Grand River were hit with numerous fines because of murals painted by some of the world’s most talented artists. All of the murals were painted with permission from the building owners, who must now remove the paint or face property seizure.

Before & after

Derek Weaver, who started the Grand River Creative Corridor in July 2012, received about $8,000 in fines and has been ordered to remove “graffiti” from his buildings. He and several others were detained for about an hour last week by four cops who temporarily seized cameras from a PBS film crew that was documenting an artist painting a mural.

“We were treated like criminals,” Weaver said. “They threatened to arrest us.”

More than 100 local, national and international artists are involved with the GRCC, and hundreds of volunteers have helped clean up trash and vandalism along Grand River, making it a popular destination. In 2012, Gov. Rick Snyder honored the GRCC with a “Keep Michigan Beautiful” award.

“The Grand River Creative Corridor is a creative solution to blight control,” Weaver said. “What we’re doing is not graffiti.”

Before & after
Before & after

The fines come less than a month after Mayor Mike Duggan gained control of the police department from Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. As Wayne County prosecutor, Duggan “waged a highly publicized and controversial anti-graffiti crusade that included jailing two out-of-town artists for 60 days and threatening to throw a notorious tagger known as Turtle – and what Duggan called his ‘organization’ – into Jackson Prison,” Deadline Detroit wrote in July 2013.

Despite the potential ramifications for building owners, neither the Detroit police nor Duggan’s administration would comment on the mural crackdown. Hundreds of buildings are adorned with murals, including some owned by billionaire Dan Gilbert.

“The city is stepping up enforcement in several areas, including graffiti,” mayoral spokesman John Roach told me, dodging specific questions about the crackdown.

Among the unanswered questions is why police are bothering with murals painted with permission when an increasing number of graffiti vandals are targeting occupied and historic buildings, freeway signs, schools, churches, cars, houses, light poles, mailboxes and playground equipment.

Related: Meet some of Detroit’s most destructive graffiti vandals

“What an extraordinary waste of city and police resources,” said Eric Williams, who lives near the Grand River Creative Corridor. “Those murals changed the look and feel of the area.

“I’m beyond disappointed. This is infuriating.”

Here is a sampling of murals that the city wants removed. Photos by Steve Neavling.

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Grand River Creative Corridor

Graffiti

Graffiti Grand River

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.