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Public art, community transformation

If you have come to downtown Alpena recently via U.S.-23, you may have noticed a new, bright addition: a mural added to our downtown landscape.

Sailing lines of color, intersecting, intertwined — a wave journey, as described by the artist. Waves symbolizing the ever-changing, interconnected, joyous journey of life, the cycles that guide our days, moments, years, routines.

Painted by Bay City-based artist Mark Piotrowski, the new mural is a part of the Fresh Waves project led by the Alpena Downtown Development Authority, an initiative we launched in 2019 with the purpose to introduce unique, vibrant artwork to the downtown district.

Artists have no designated content to create or theme to work within. Instead, we encourage them to follow their own vision and creativity.

If you could paint any mural, what would it be?

This year, we invited artists and downtown locations to apply to be a part of the project, and we had artists throughout the state and country who wanted to leave their own mark on our small town.

Public art is nothing new to Alpena: the fountains in Culligan Plaza and at the Besser Museum for Northeast Michigan, the community Fish Mural spearheaded by Art in the Loft, the mural at the Hungry Hippie, artwork throughout the campus of Alpena Community College, sculptures along the bi-path through Art Vision.

Our project was created to contribute to that growing presence of the arts in our community and to add to those other public arts initiatives by introducing new, inspiring styles of artwork to our downtown area.

Public art and community development go hand-in-hand, as communities small and large have invested in art as a means to beautify buildings and spaces, inspire its citizens, and draw in visitors.

For those who live in those communities, public art quickly becomes part of the community fabric, whether it be a landmark for directions or a setting for senior photos, something that begins conversations about what the artwork is and what it means, or simply something beautiful that is observed, seen, experienced every day.

It takes courage to see something new in something familiar — and public art actively makes its viewers who have a connection with the place it is created see something new in familiar spaces: walls we drive by, buildings we walk by, parks we visit.

For our community and those who live here, public art transforms those familiar sights and turns them into something new, adding something that wasn’t there before.

Artwork done on such a large scale in such public places inspires us to see things in a new way and engage with our environment in ways we may never have before. How many times have we all walked by or driven by those previously blank walls that are now covered in colorful artwork? Could you envision what they looked like before? If a blank wall can be transformed into something beautiful, what other possibilities may exist in our community?

For a community to thrive, it must see its own possibilities and be willing to grasp them: understanding our past but looking forward to the future — and realizing that, with that growth, comes change.

In a small way, through those murals, we hope to inspire our community to see the possibilities that are out there, welcoming change, realizing that, with openness and creativity, beautiful things may come to be.

Anne Gentry graduated from Brown University with a degree in comparative literature and has studied in Italy and South Australia. She is currently executive director of the Alpena Downtown Development Authority.

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