Artists complete Muskegon Rails Project murals

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“Calm and Quiet” by Jimmy Cobb Courtesy MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative

Muskegon’s entrance on Seaway Drive now boasts four original, hand-painted murals on two rail bridges that previously were described as “eyesores.”

Due to help from an online crowdfunding effort that raised $50,000, qualifying the project for an additional $50,000 in community development funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), the four murals — “Calm and Quiet,” “Happy,” “Flora and Fauna” and “Pride and Opportunity” — were completed between May and August by the Michigan artists Jimmy Cobb, Dan Parker, Ed Irmen and Ashely Nash, respectively.

For the four murals to be painted on the sides of two railroad bridges that for years were rusting hulks in the cities of Muskegon, Norton Shores and Muskegon Heights, a community collaboration had to be developed between the three cities, the Genesee Wyoming Railroad, individual and corporate philanthropists, and the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative, a program of the Community Foundation for Muskegon County.

The inspiration for The Muskegon Rails Project began with Norton Shores businessman Jerry Wiersma, president of West MI Power Cleaning Equipment. Wiersma worked for several years to get the approval of track owner CSX and track user Genesee Wyoming Railroad to improve the look of the bridges.

“It is so exciting to finally see this project come to fruition,” Wiersma said. “This has taken a lot of work from a whole host of people. Of course, this would not have been possible without the cooperation of the Genesee Wyoming Railroad, who has been so great to work with. When others said that this could not be done, we dug in and said, ‘Watch us go.’”

The murals were done in two phases. The bridge in Muskegon between Laketon and Hackley was done starting in May and finishing up in June. The bridge in Norton Shores/Muskegon Heights was begun Aug. 11 and completed Aug. 18. Both bridges span U.S. 31-Business, aka Seaway Drive.

Direct costs for the project, which included the cost of the cleaning and priming of both bridges, equipment rental, the open call for artists, artist commissions and supply stipends, permits, fees and the required insurances, totaled about $185,000. Of that, 72% was used to get the bridges ready for the artists to paint, and 28% went to the art portion of the project. Of the total funds raised, 52% were individual and corporate philanthropic donations and grants; 22% were municipal community capital improvement funds; and 26% were the matching funds the community received from the MEDC’s Patronicity campaign.

“The cities of Muskegon, Muskegon Heights and Norton Shores are proud to have come together with the MEDC’s support for the value of placemaking in Michigan, reflected in those who have led the growing public art collection in the Muskegon community,” said Frank Peterson, Muskegon city manager. “The creative repurposing of these bridges — what many considered longtime eyesores in each of these cities — is another step toward creating a more beautiful and vibrant community.”

Muskegon Heights City Manager Troy Bell described the process as “an undeniably tangible indication of what art can do to bring people and whole communities together.”

“Through this project, we see clearly how in Muskegon, where roads might divide us, bridges can unite us,” Bell said.

Norton Shores Mayor Gary Nelund said the project is “a fun and exciting initiative to improve some longstanding eyesores in the community.”

“Going beyond just paint and primer, the addition of four new public art pieces is another new and unique way to celebrate our community,” he said.

The four Michigan artists who did the murals were among the 16 entries received during the open call for artists. The Downtown Arts Committee, along with the representatives from all three cities, narrowed the competition down to six finalists, and the final four artists were selected through a public vote. Nearly 2,000 votes were received through online and in-person voting at three public libraries. The four murals chosen for this project, all located on Seaway Drive, were the top four vote-getters.

Located on Seaway between Sherman and Broadway:

  • “Calm and Quiet” by Cobb, a Muskegon freelance artist who graduated from North Muskegon High School and Muskegon Community College and is now studying at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, was inspired by the beaches and Lake Michigan.
  • “Happy” by Parker, a Muskegon self-taught artist, who has painted murals in San Antonio and New York City and around West Michigan, is a mural that pays tribute to the beautiful diversity of the greater community, showcasing everyday Muskegonites.

Located on Seaway between Laketon and Hackley:

  • “Flora and Fauna” by Irmen, of Detroit, who has a 2016 degree from Detroit’s College for Creative Studies and specializes in large-scale murals, painting with an abstract flair and lots of color, is inspired by nature and particularly inspired by the Muskegon River.
  • “Pride and Opportunity,” by Nash, a Muskegon High School graduate with a fine arts degree from Grand Valley State University who is now a Grand Rapids freelance illustrator, is a historic montage of iconic Muskegon images.

“The Muskegon Rails Project is just one more example of the innovative and creative energy of Muskegon these days, and these massive murals are going to be enjoyed by literally thousands of our Muskegon residents and visitors every day,” said Judith Hayner, project director of the MuskegonCity Public Art Initiative and retired executive director of the Muskegon Museum of Art. “Muskegon’s public art collection has been instrumental in the exciting regeneration that we are experiencing in our community today, and these four works of art are remarkable additions to this collection.”

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