Detroit artist creates mural for Inkster Cultural Arts district

World-renowned artist and Detroit native, Sydney James, has been commissioned to develop a mural for the newly launched Inkster Cultural Arts District. The piece will be the first of over 10 murals developed for the district.


The project is sponsored by Farmington Hills-based nonprofit GreenPath Financial Wellness, working with the Inkster Downtown Development Authority and organization Recording, Arts, Film, and Technology Detroit. GreenPath is on a 10-year mission to make the American Dream inclusive for all people. This includes working with communities at the grassroots level to create economic opportunities for residents and small businesses.


“Part of our goal at GreenPath is to lead the conversation about the importance of financial wellness,” said CEO Kristen Holt. “One way to make that happen is to support local, grassroots economic development activities. Developing the Inkster Cultural Arts District will help make Inkster a consumer destination. Ultimately, this will help grow local businesses and create opportunities for residents.”


James began the project August 13, titling the mural, “No Census Taken.” The piece is inspired by the 1940 painting, “The Census Taker” by Norman Rockwell, which features a mother counting on her fingers to see how many children she has for a census worker, while three of her kids are peeking out from behind her dress. “No Census Taken” also features a mother, holding a baby in her arms, while her two other children hide behind her dress. The artwork represents the history of the African-American population in Inkster, and how the race feels invisible when it comes to economic activity.


In the 1920s and 1930s, African-American Ford employees were not allowed to reside in Dearborn or surrounding communities. Inkster was the only city where they could build and own homes and businesses. Soon after the factory closed in the area, Michigan divested state funding from Inkster. The mural will show a census taker, or the state government, not recording any data. The mother, which represents the city of Inkster, will be standing beside him hiding her children, or the population, behind her dress. However, the children are not hiding; the census taker is unable to see them.


Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the College of Creative Studies in 2001, James is a classically trained illustrator. She began her career as an art director for Global Hue Advertising Agency in Detroit. In 2004, James moved to Los Angeles, where she worked as an artist on several TV shows and films. She returned to Detroit in 2011, creating murals for the Grand River Creative Corridor and the Federal Reserve Building. James’ work has been showcased across the country in cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and Atlanta.


GreenPath Financial Wellness is a nationwide counseling and education organization. Founded in 1961, financial experts assist consumers with reducing financial stress, managing debt, saving for the future, making informed decisions, and achieving their financial goals.


Read more articles by Micah Walker.

Micah Walker is a Metro Detroit-based journalist.