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ANN ARBOR, MI — Following the painting of several new public art murals in the last year, the west side of downtown Ann Arbor is undergoing a rebranding.
Colorful banners now hang from new light poles along both sides of First Street, between William and Ann streets, designating the area as Ann Arbor’s Creative District.
“This is so exciting for Ann Arbor,” said Marie Klopf, president and CEO of the Ann Arbor Art Center, located at 117 W. Liberty St. on the west side of downtown.
The banners feature images of the various murals that now grace the sides of buildings on the west side of downtown, a 2020 initiative of the Art Center, which had the idea for the Creative District and designed the banners.
“These banners will begin to frame the area and provide context for art integral to the brand,” states an Art Center presentation titled, “The Case for Public Art and the Creative District,” presented to the Downtown Development Authority and Main Street Area Association for approval of the banners.
Banners also are planned along Ashley Street, which the DDA is now giving a makeover following work on First Street.
Through its Art-in-Public Committee, the Art Center has been working in recent years on the idea of a concentrated group of public art projects in the emerging Creative District. In addition to First and Ashley streets, it has envisioned the district to include portions of Liberty, Washington and Huron streets.
Businesses in the district include the Blind Pig concert venue, Blank Slate Creamery and various bars and restaurants.
“Our vision is of an Ann Arbor filled with art — this starts with a core concentration of art and radiates throughout the city in all directions. In order to achieve this, we must first focus on that core (or district) with art as an integral part of its identity,” the Art Center presentation states.
“Areas of concentrated art and creativity not only continue to keep cities relevant and fresh, they can actually stimulate and spur economic development by increasing foot traffic, driving tourism and enhancing public safety. Our vision is to continue to leverage the energy and creativity that already exists within the west side of our downtown area in order to manifest a vibrant and thriving Ann Arbor for all to enjoy.”
Neighborhoods across the U.S. and worldwide have discovered the benefits of infusing art into their identity, transforming into art destinations, according to the Art Center, which points to areas like Eastern Market in Detroit, Bushwick in Brooklyn, New York, and Southside in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
“These neighborhoods continue to develop, grow and transform from both a cultural and economic perspective,” the Art Center states. “As many have discovered, these benefits can actually help to drive the neighborhood forward economically.”
Public art can help attract new businesses and talent, including artists, designers and entertainers, creating important cultural anchors and drawing in “other players in the innovation economy who seek to live and work within an innovative ecosystem,” according to the Art Center.
“Downtown Ann Arbor continues to grow both geographically and in density. To support this growth, we must find new and creative ways to attract visitors and businesses alike — all great cities worldwide host cultural, creative and arts districts that contribute to economic vibrancy,” the center states.
The idea for a Creative District grew out of an earlier idea for an Arts District and there was talk of having a mural festival in conjunction with a music festival in the district last year before the pandemic hit, according to the Art Center.
With several murals by various artists painted throughout downtown’s west side during the pandemic, the Art Center is now making plans for a new round of art starting this summer, expanding from murals to include alleyway installations and other interactive works. Several sculptures are also on the center’s list of potential projects for 2021 and beyond.
The branded banners showing up now are “to showcase existing works of art in an exciting and emerging Creative District in downtown Ann Arbor,” the center states.
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