Spring Lake murals celebrate creativity while hindering crime

Displayed in Spring Lake are murals that applaud creative flourish and thwart crime through environmental design.

These public works of art are the brainchild of Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Cory Allard and retired Sgt. Jason Kik, who received Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) training.

Studies show CPTED principles help deter crime. Murals innately engender added “natural surveillance,” either through people gazing at it or with eyes that are part of the murals’ design, says Allard. 

‘Not just a blank wall’

“Murals instill a sense of ownership,” says Allard. “It goes to show you it’s not just a blank wall on a building but somebody has taken the time to paint the wall that gives the impression who owns the building, cares about the building. They want to show the building off. Now you’re looking at a fixture, a mural, not a blank wall.

“The other thing it does is it beautifies the area,” adds Allard. “It builds a sense of community pride. Its biggest goal is to bring people into the area, to get people to want to see it. The way it reduces crime is, when you have people in the area, there’s less opportunity for crime to occur because people are around. You get people out and about, walking around. It kind of eliminates the opportunity for anything to happen.”

CPTED originated in the 1960s and was expanded in the early 1970s with criminologist C. Ray Jeffery and architect Oscar Newman, who developed urban renewal strategies such as the “broken window” principle, which warns windows left cracked increases crime, antisocial behavior, and civil disorder.

Seizing an opportunity

The first step for Spring Lake’s murals was launched when Kik and Allard learned Whistle Stop Playground, through which the Lakeside Trail runs, was due for equipment replacement and other improvements around 2015.

“I thought it was a good opportunity to implement a site review,” says Allard. “What improvements can we add to this area to prevent crime? Being trained in CPTED, I knew that the backside of the park building was a plain white structure. It occurred to me it would be a great place to start a mural.”

Then, in 2018, the Village of Spring Lake launched a $35,000 crowdfunding campaign dubbed Art in the Park. The Michigan Economic Development Corp. matched the village with another $35,000.

“The first mural canvases were along the village’s Lakeside Trail, which is considered a linear park,” says Angela Stanford-Butler, director of the Spring Lake Downtown Development Authority.

Color and whimsy

The first two murals that brought color and whimsy to Spring Lake were celebrated during their official unveiling in 2019. These murals, on the rear of buildings facing Savidge Street, were the first of three planned for buildings that back up to the Lakeside Trail bike path.

Spring Lake artist Christi Dreese’s “My Grandmother’s Garden” is painted on the backside of the Plantenga’s Cleaners building.
This Joel Schoon-Tanis mural is on the Cruise and Travel Experts Building, which fronts on Savidge/M104, in downtown Spring Lake. (Bruce Buursma)

Nearby is Holland artist Joel Schoon-Tanis’ “Spring Lake from a Fish Eye View,” which can be seen on the rear of the Cruise & Travel Experts building, which faces Whistle Stop Playground. The mural depicts aquatic life that inhabits Spring Lake.

“It’s a fish-eye view of Spring Lake,” says Stanford-Butler. “He (Schoon-Tanis) researched the kind of fish that are in Spring Lake and accurately painted them into the mural.”

Getting teens involved

Stanford-Butler applied for and received a grant from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation. Working with the foundation’s Youth Advisory Council, five teens who attend Spring Lake High School submitted their concepts for public art. With the help of Spring Lake High School art teacher Jennifer Gwinnup, some thought-provoking art was on the horizon.

The teens’ artistic ideas revealed a busload of talent.

In 2020, a mural was completed by then-Spring Lake High School senior and now graduate Liv Butler. Her inclusive mural “Together." The concept was originally called  "We’ve Got The Power to be Loving Each Other” from Gorillaz's song, "We Got The Power." The mural covers the exterior wall of Seven Steps Up Live Music and Events venue, owned by Gary and Michelle Hanks.

Then, gracing Central Park’s west entrance, a 5-foot-high and 52-foot-wide wall is covered by the recently completed mural — four teenage artists have been working on one “canvas” — that reflects how diversity and inclusion prompt a vibrant world. The four works are “Mother Nature,” by Inez Allard; “Embrace Each Other,” by Haley Brosnan; “Unity,” by Eleanor Vega; and “Alive In Nature,” by Tori Airo.

A mural on Central Park's west entrance wall in Spring Lake has the theme of supporting a diverse and inclusive world.

“I’m always inspired by the idea of Mother Nature being a powerful thing, and that reminded me of the area and I wanted to portray it in a diverse way as well,” says Inez, who will be a senior this fall. “We decided on (diversity and inclusivity as a theme) because of the times we’re in right now. We need to be connected to the community because of COVID.”

‘Art has value’

The teens are paid $10 per square foot for their artistic endeavors.

“Art has value,” says Stanford-Butler. “We wanted them to know, when you’re an artist, everyone will ask you to do something for free. It’s the one career people will say something like, ‘Oh could you just …’

“With the completion of the new murals at Central Park and the new sculpture scheduled for installation at Tanglefoot Park, the village will have a trail of public art that runs from the Grand River side of the peninsula on the south around the Spring Lake side on the north and right on to the edge of town,” says Stanford-Butler.

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Read more articles by Paul R. Kopenkoskey.