Local artists paint murals, transform Port Huron’s Military Street tunnel

Artists from around the Blue Water Area worked to transform the Military Street tunnel located along the Blue Water River Walk last weekend. As part of the Making Muralists project, artists learned how to make large-scale murals while also helping to beautify the space and add more public art to the community. 

Local artist and business owner, Jody Parmann, is the event organizer for the Making Muralists project. Parmann is also a member of the Port Huron Downtown Development Authority and sits on the Blue Water Arts Council.Local artist and business owner, Jody Parmann, organized the event after the idea sparked a little over a year ago during a walk with her children along the Blue Water River Walk. When her son Judah, who was 8 years old at the time, was able to read the vulgarities in some of the tunnel’s graffiti, Parmann realized there was an opportunity there to do something about it.

“The idea was percolating and it's all well and good to organize one mural, but there was a serious lack of muralists I could go to with ideas,” says Parmann who also serves on the Blue Water Arts Council and is a member of the Port Huron Downtown Development Authority. “If I could teach some of these artists, who are already great painters, to create a mural on a grand scale and give them those tools…what a bigger pool of talent I could draw from.”

Artist Allen Scott (aka Scott E. Skullz), does detail work on his mural.
Initially, Parmann estimated about 20 murals would be painted with a blank panel separating each artwork, but Parmann received significant interest from artists around the Blue Water Area who wanted to participate in the community art initiative. 

“I got a huge response from people who were interested in learning and since the ultimate goal was to teach as many people as possible, I went to the [Port Huron] City Manager, James Freed, and said I don't want to turn any of these people away. I want to teach them all,” says Parmann. “It's an investment into future public art if we can help them learn these skills.”

Laura Collins-DeNault and her artwork honoring the late David Korff, her friend and mentor who was an active member of the art community in the Blue Water Area.
In the end, 36 artists — including Parmann and local muralist, David Stoneberg, who helped with the event — have artwork displayed in the tunnel. Paint, ladders, and other supplies were available to the artists. Each artist received a $100 stipend for their work. 

In planning the layout for the murals in the tunnel, Parmann says she dispersed more experienced artists throughout the tunnel to help others who were just starting out — a move that had an impact that went beyond what she could have expected.  

“For all that David and I did organizing it and teaching some of the basic stuff, they really taught each other a lot and I couldn't have planned that,” says Parmann. “That was magical to me, to see them all working together being excited for each other — it was beautiful.”

Part of the Making Muralists project, Grace McCarthy's artwork is displayed along with 35 other artists' work in the Military Street tunnel along the Blue Water River Walk in Port Huron. "The value was in learning some tips and tricks, but we didn't teach anybody how to paint. Everybody came here with those skills already," says Jody Parmann, organizer of the event as well as artist and local business owner. "We really focused on how to get their image from a small size to a grand scale, but also what it takes to quote a job, what to consider, how much to charge for your time — that sort of thing."
The initiative was made possible with the help of sponsors including the Blue Water Arts Committee of the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, City of Port Huron, City of Port Huron Parks & Recreation Department, Raven Café, and Watson Painting Co. Cameras have been installed in the tunnel to protect the artwork from vandalism. 

“This project was a great opportunity to bring public art to the Bridge to Bay trail that leads to the Foundation’s Blue Water River Walk. Now community members and tourists alike can enjoy a beautiful, eye-appealing tunnel, as part of their walk, bike, or run along the trail,” says Tom Walker, Chair of the Community Foundation Blue Water Arts Committee.

Artist and Goodells resident, Dakoda Shaw poses with the mural she created with support from her mother, Denise Jones. "A lot of people know that I love art and somebody recommended it [the project] to me at work," says Shaw. "I picked these succulents here because down at the end of Desmond's Landing every weekend they have a farmers market and I actually bought succulents on there and they are lavishing. This is to kind of help grow the community, so why not grow with the succulents?"
Port Huron residents and cyclists, Halley Bolt and Dale Chandler, checked out the new art while on a bike ride along the River Walk. They liked some of the graffiti art that was in the tunnel previously but a lot of it included inappropriate language and overall, they say it was an eyesore.

“I think it’s absolutely stunning,” says Dale Chandler. “It’s a fantastic thing for the community and it’s a great extension to the other stuff that we have down here.”
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Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with nonprofit experience. During her free time, she enjoys reading and exploring the Blue Water Area with her husband Erick and their corgi, Nori. Contact Liz at editor@thekeelph.com or follow her on Instagram @lizfredendallphoto.