New youth-designed mosaic mural unveiled in downtown Ypsilanti

A new mural at 301 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti is the result of a year-long initiative involving contributions from nearly 100 community members.

The mural project was a collaboration between two Ypsi-based nonprofits, Youth Arts Alliance (YAA) and Our House. YAA provides arts opportunities for youth involved in the juvenile justice system, while Our House serves youth transitioning from foster care to independent adulthood.

The mural is done in a mosaic style, one of three art forms young people learned about through the year-long program funded by Generator Z, an organization that solicits youth input and funds innovative after-school programs. The mural was created during an eight-week workshop in summer 2021. A second workshop involved a painted mural at Our House, and a future workshop will focus on two-dimensional art activities. 

Heather Martin, founding director of YAA, says the series of arts workshops is "completely youth-driven." She says the idea for the workshops came from youth from YAA and the Our House advisory board who asked for more arts opportunities and more opportunities to connect with other youth who love the arts.

The public was invited to an unveiling of the mosaic mural May 19. A large group gathered to celebrate the artwork and hear from the various partners. Ypsilanti Mayor Lois Richardson spoke, as did two youth artists who participated in making the mural. Michelle Hanke, a member of Our House's youth advisory board, created the design that was chosen for the mural and spoke about it at the unveiling.

"I knew I wanted it to represent everyone, and that's why I used so many different colors," Hanke says. She says the mural's design of interlocking silhouettes is also an allusion to the fact that "two heads are better than one" and the way we're all interconnected as a community.

Martin notes that the project was a chance for young people to connect with each other and with adults who could serve as role models. Martin says one youth participant met a YAA board member during a workshop and the two "hit it off beautifully," starting what Martin says she hopes is a lifelong mentor/mentee relationship.

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

Photos courtesy of Our House.