GRAND RAPIDS, Mich., (WOOD) — Seven murals are in the works as a part of an art project called The 49507 Project in Grand Rapids.

The murals are set to cover the sides of different businesses and are being created by Black and brown artists. Organizers say all but one of the businesses involved are owned by people of color.

“The idea with the 49507 Project is really using art to reclaim our neighborhood,” said Marcel Fable Price who is the executive director of The Diatribe, the organization behind the project. “We really wanted to create an art project that belonged to the southeast and southwest side, that belonged to the neighbors, that belonged to the people.”

The project started with a course called Writing to Right Wrongs hosted at Ottawa Hills High School. Price says students learned about gentrification and its impact on the city of Grand Rapids. Price says on one of the last days, The 49507 Project artists spoke to students about the kind of art they wanted in their neighborhoods. From there, the project went to community members and then the businesses where the art would be painted.

Artists spent the last few weeks painting colorful images at The Old Goat in Alger Heights and the Boost Mobile cellphone store on Madison Avenue and Hall Street.

“The entire city needs to know that we’re here and whether they want to move in or not, you have to pay homage to the people who built this area and made it what it is,” artist Esan Sommersell said.

A mural along Franklin Street and Madison Avenue SE that is part of the The 49507 Project. (Sept. 15, 2021)

Sommersell says so far, he’s spent about three days painting a mural near Burton Street and Eastern Avenue called “Generational Whealth.” He says it’s meant to start a conversation about mental health in the Black community.

“You have beautiful Black smiles from all different walks of life, all different ages, all different tones,” Sommersell said as he described the piece. “I want people to walk by and take a tab that’s gifting them with a smile. There’s no numbers necessary.”

Near Franklin Street and Eastern Avenue, people will find another mural with themes of ancestral roots and a message of togetherness.

“One of my images is a family — a father, his wife and he’s actually holding his child and his wife is standing behind him, supporting him,” artist E’lla Webber said.

Webber owns an art gallery and says she typically sculpts but decided to paint for this project. She says it took about three weeks to complete.

“What I want people to stop and take from this mural when they see it is happiness, joy, togetherness. The bright colors represent the energy, the positive energy that we don’t see much of in this community,” Webber said.

A mural on the side of the South East Market that is part of the The 49507 Project. (Sept. 15, 2021)

While the murals add color and beauty to the 49507 zip code, they’re also meant to educate.

“There’s going to be plaques on the wall that are going to be interactive. So when you scan them, it’s going to bring you into the 1930s lending maps and show people how our neighborhoods were redlined,” Price said. “If you’re over here and you’re looking around and you’re seeing how the neighborhood has been invested in, and then you’re going to one in let’s say, Alger Heights, and you’re looking around the neighborhood and how it’s been invested in, you’re going to see two polarizing opposites.”

Price says he hopes the project will drive people to invest in Black and brown neighborhoods and the people living there.

“This project is really to hopefully inspire people to invest in our neighborhoods in different ways but also we want to make our neighborhoods a multicultural arts district,” Price said. “I hope people will feel inspired seeing work that looks like them larger than life. I hope that they’ll feel that they’re worthy of being on a mural and that they’re worthy of being celebrated.”

A mural on the side of the Old Goat in Alger Heights that is part of the The 49507 Project. (Sept. 15, 2021)

Several artists are still working to complete their murals. The 49507 Project is set to be completed by mid-October.

Murals can be found at the following locations:

  • Casa De Cobija, 2355 S. Division Avenue
  • Public Thread, 1405 Buchanan Avenue SW
  • Boost Mobile, 1221 Madison Avenue SE
  • 40 Acres Headquarters, 703 Eastern Avenue SE
  • The South East Market, 1220 Kalamazoo Avenue SE
  • Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses, 2012 Eastern Avenue SE
  • The Old Goat, 2434 Eastern Avenue SE

For more information about The 49507 Project, visit The Diatribe’s website.