In Hamtramck, street art is anything but ‘dead’

It’s an old saying but one worth repeating: art is in the eye of the beholder.

In other words, people are going to disagree on what is a piece of art and what is simply a piece of crap.

Case in point, Hamtramck has become the center of attention in the metro area for several murals painted throughout town by internationally-revered graffiti artists.

One mural in particular has some folks riled up. On the side of a city-owned loft building on Jos. Campau and Goodson, there is a painting of cartoon figures carrying a casket that has “STREET ART” written on the casket.

Apparently, it’s sort of a political statement that since street art has gone legit, it is now dead.

Some in the community who aren’t up on the culture of street art have a far different take and think it symbolizes the death of Hamtramck.

Perhaps it’s ironic that the artist meant to symbolize the death of street art because here in Hamtramck the subject is very much alive. So much so, that a petition was filed with city officials to have the mural painted over and the artist responsible for it to be prosecuted.

There is also a counter-petition in support of the mural.

We can understand how some Hamtramckans might be so easily offended by the mural. After all, Hamtramck is on the brink of a financial collapse and could find itself under the control of a state-appointed emergency financial manager.

And things could get much worse. There is fear that if a financial manger does take over, our police and fire departments might be closed down and those services contracted out to Detroit.

In a sense, that would truly be the death of our city.

Maybe imaginations are running high about the meaning of this mural. It doesn’t help that the artist chose a rather obscure subject matter.

But as others more articulate about the role of art have already said, art is not only about pleasing us, but also about stirring public discussion.

These murals are not your ordinary kind. While the artists are largely unknown to most Hamtramck residents, they are known to many others who would be very interested in visiting our city just to see the works.

And these kinds of murals also have a way of attracting other creative people to move here, and set up businesses.

What the murals are really about is attracting what’s commonly referred to as the “creative class” – hip, young adults who tend to revitalize urban areas.

Hamtramck needs all the revitalizing it can get. If it takes a little controversy, well then, let’s have more.

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