Local teens collaborate with nationally-known artist to create new Ypsi mural

A mural designed by Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti students in collaboration with a nationally-known muralist now graces a building next to the Ypsilanti Transit Center. The mural's theme of diversity and inclusion includes imagery of a bus driver connecting the two communities of Ann Arbor and Ypsi.

The mural was a collaborative effort started by members of Embracing Our Differences Michigan (EOD), including EOD Treasurer Lynne Settles, and local artist Gary Horton. Settles and Ann Arbor art teacher Deb Ennis ran into Horton, best known for murals in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area, at the Ann Arbor Art Fair. 

"We said, 'It would be so cool if we could get kids together to do a mural with Gary Horton,'" Settles says. "And Gary said, 'Put it together and I'm in.'"

Settles and Ennis were already working with students on topics related to diversity and inclusion through EOD, so they recruited eight students, four each from Ann Arbor and Ypsi, to plan the design in collaboration with Horton over three sessions that ran from April through the summer.

Settles says kids brought sketches while adults led a discussion about what to include in the mural. The mural features landmarks including the Ypsilanti Water tower and Eastern Michigan University's and the University of Michigan's stadiums, along with a smiling, waving bus driver. 

EOD leaders got permission to paint on the side of the commercial building near the transit center simply because Ennis knew the building owner. The building isn't open for business but is owned by a local man who uses it as a warehouse, Settles says.

Ennis says the building owner was "always looking for something to put on that wall" and asked Ennis to see the preliminary design.

"We showed him the design and a bio of Gary, and he said yes, gave us the keys, and said, 'Go for it,'" Settles says.

After a summer of planning, EOD invited members of the community to help paint the mural. A variety of community members showed up, including a contingent from Big Brothers Big Sisters. For safety reasons, youth painted all the ground-level portions of the mural while Horton took the top half.

The community was invited to an unveiling of the mural Sept. 30. The event drew muralists, their families, and local dignitaries including Michigan Sen. Jeff Irwin and Washtenaw County Commissioner Caroline Sanders, who gave brief speeches during the ceremony.

The mural has already proven popular with local residents and transit employees alike.

"So many of the bus drivers stopped and said, 'That's my picture,' and pointed to the bus driver in the mural," Settles says.

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 Lynne Settles.
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