The morning sunlight streams though the arches under the viaduct on Trumbull Road, illuminating the transformation a block north of the Wayne State Athletic Field. Where passing drivers wouldn’t ordinarily take notice of the graffiti along this stretch of concrete walls, some forty young people are gathered with ladders, paint rollers, brushes, and buckets of bright colors, stroke-by-stroke turning the grey space into public art.
The Trumbull Street project is but one of thirteen murals in progress to be completed in the course of eight weeks. All in another Summer in the City, the “super cool” volunteer organization creating an immediate and visible change in Detroit. By summer’s end, more than 2,000 students in high school and college will have painted the town, covering an estimated total of 30,000 square feet of brick and mortar, concrete and plaster with more than 100 gallons of paint.
Mural designer and project director, Zak Meers, stands at the wall, paint brush in hand, assessing the color purple applied on a 50-foot “banner,” freshly painted on the wall. “Does this look right?” he asks, as he squints up at at the effect he’s created on concrete “Viewed from a distance, this oughta work just fine,” he approves.
Artist, student, teacher, volunteer and Detroit resident originally from San Francisco, Zak is a Michigan Service Scholar partnering with Summer in the City. Having completed a BS in Product Design and a BA in Visual Communication from San Francisco State University, he’s currently earning a Masters of Urban Planning at Wayne State University where he is Co-Chair of the student organization WSSUP (Wayne State Students of Urban Planning).
Since its founding in 2002, Summer in the City (SITC) has worked to organize flexible and fulfilling projects for high school students with the support of corporate and philanthropic partners in Detroit. To date, volunteers have contributed over 22,000 hours of service to projects that help make Detroit a cleaner, safer, more beautiful and sustainable place for everyone.
Why Summer in the City?
“It’s fun and it’s community service,” says Rory Renwick, 16, a student at Andover High School.
“It’s a good way to structure the summer,” explains Michael Drapkin, a senior at the Jewish Academy who serves as a regular member of the crew.
“What better opportunity to explore and learn about yourself while doing something positive for the city,” observes Meredith Allesse, a sophmore in textile design at the Chicago. “This is so different from the Chicago setting, you can see the difference your work makes – immediately. We started blocking out the design on this wall last week, and just look where we’ve come.” Asked whether she intends to return to Detroit after graduation, Meredith affirms, “I’ll always be a Detroit girl at heart. Why would I stay in Chicago?”
“This is my second year,” says Celeste Ruggia, visiting her grandmother in Lafayette Park. “My friends at home in New Jersey ask me what’s so special about Detroit? Actually, there’s so much stuff you can do here. More people need to be willing to take a look. You can see there’s a lot of creativity going on in the city. It’s a great place to be an artist.”