Public art matters: Communities and artists benefit from downtown murals

A Greek-god-astronaut overlooks the Third Street Star Bridge, while across the street a man shares a cup of coffee with a pine tree. Around the corner, the history of Bay City is illuminated through mural panels that sit above Bayshire Beauty Academy, depicting important historical figures and events. These pieces of public art portray a vibrant, hand-painted story of our history.

Looking up from Third Street, a massive astronaut is illuminated by the Third Street Star Bridge, floating above the “stars” in outer space.
Over the past several years in Bay City, mural pieces and public art have been popping up here and there, garnering attention and excitement from the community and surrounding businesses. These pieces bring life to our city streets and challenge community members to come up with their own meanings or interpretations. Public art not only amplifies a city’s aesthetic excitement, it acts as a large-scale form of expression for artists around the world. Today, you can stumble upon street art in every major city and many unassuming smaller towns.

Let’s explore some of the public art Bay City has to offer and hear from the artists that brought their large-scale ideas to life.

Each panel of this mural tells a different story from Bay City's history, such as a circus trainer who lived above Old City Hall.Nestled in between lights strung across a city street and an old-fashioned diner, you’ll find a larger than life Greek god who is also an astronaut. This is the work of Paolo Pedini, a Saginaw native who is based in Charlotte, North Carolina now. Looking up from Third Street, this massive astro-god is illuminated by the Third Street Star Bridge, floating above the “stars” in outer space. The astronaut came to fruition along with the Third Street Star Bridge, facilitated by Avram Golden, local photographer and owner of Golden Gallery. Golden organized the “Star Bridge” project, knew of Pedini’s work, and thought it would be a perfect fit. Pedini gladly obliged, and the astro-god was born. The piece was paid for by the Star Bridge Project with the help of Zef’s Coney Restaurant, 201 Third St., and Jake’s Corner Lounge, 114 Third St.

Pedini has an ongoing series of Greek gods in astronaut suits, and other space themes. His work spans a wide range of styles and is always eye-catching and provocative. “I make art that I would like to see,” says Pedini. For his piece in Bay City, he “set out thinking about an old statue of an astronaut being discovered or sitting somewhere. As time goes on that image takes on different meaning from a variety of viewers.” Pedini is interested in and fascinated by the many ideas his work conjures in people.

Along the west side of Zef's Coney Restaurant is a scene featuring a color-blocked sunset illuminating a man and a pine tree chatting. The mural honors Bay City's lumbering history.Just adjacent to Pedini’s piece, you’ll find an interesting scene — a beautiful color-blocked sunset, illuminating a man and a pine tree chatting over a cup of coffee. This piece spans the entire west side of Zef’s outer wall, and is incredibly fun to view. The mastermind behind it? Trevor Edmonds. Edmonds is the Director of Land Protection at the Saginaw Basin Land Conservancy, and also a muralist. His concept for this piece came from his interest in the intersection of nature and industry and how Bay City has been shaped by the industries that once used this land.

One panel of this mural tells the story of Annie Edson Taylor barreling over Niagara Falls.“It can be easily argued that all industries are dependent in one way or another through land use or the dependence upon one specific resource, but the lumber industry and its role in establishing Bay City and the surrounding area is undeniable,” says Edmonds. “Without the abundance of white pines that existed throughout the state prior to European settlement and the boom of the lumber industry, this area's history would've played out differently. With the Saginaw River being so close to the mural's planned location, I was inspired to incorporate it in some way.”

Edmonds says he also has Golden to thank for streamlining the mural process. From conception to approval, it was a breeze thanks to Golden’s motivated nature. Edmonds had help from his friends and family throughout the process of executing such a large-scale piece, especially from his dad and brother’s painting company, One Man and a Brush.

This piece playing off of Pedini’s just across the street livens up the corner of Saginaw and Third, and is a great example of public art reflecting a city’s past while showing reverence and appreciation of it.

“The presence of art in a city is an indicator to me that the community cares. It shows that more than the bare minimum is being tended to,” says Edmonds. “It's such a unique way to highlight a facet of a given community or provide a platform for a new idea to be introduced to the people that live there.”

Saginaw Valley State University students created a series of panels above Bayshire Beauty Academy. Each panel highlights a different part of Bay City's history.Another great example of the reflection of Bay City’s past in art form are the mural panels above Bayshire Beauty Academy. These panels were created by Saginaw Valley State University students in 2018 as a part of a Community Mural class, along with SVSU’s Community Arts & Research Program, the Bay City Downtown Development Authority and Studio 23.

Each panel tells an interesting story of the area’s past – the circus trainer that lived above Old City Hall, a quirky nod to the lumber days, Annie Edson Taylor barreling down Niagara Falls, and many more fascinating stories live above Saginaw Street. Mike Mosher taught this class and facilitated these murals and is an accomplished muralist himself. You can read more about what each panel means, and other SVSU mural projects.

Whether it’s a colorful nod to the history of our beautiful city or a spaced-out Greek god floating above a downtown street, public art has enhanced Bay City and will continue to do so as more pieces come to fruition.

Not only do artists get the chance to express a big idea to the community, the community gets to embrace and interpret the art in a unique way as they interact with it on a daily basis. Be on the lookout, those plain city walls hold potential and more art is to come.

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