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'Arts Alley' initiative to transform alleys in five Detroit neighborhoods

Maureen Feighan
The Detroit News

Alleys in five Detroit neighborhoods will get an art-infused makeover to help transform them into functional spaces again as part of a $3 million pilot project announced this week by Detroit city officials.

Called the Arts Alley Initiative and funded by American Rescue Plan Act dollars with support from the Ford Foundation, the alleys are in Detroit's Jefferson Chalmers, Old Redford, Schulze, Northwest Goldberg and Springwells neighborhoods. City officials hope to create community gathering spaces that are not just more functional but where residents can "exhibit and experience art."

Detroit's Arts Alley Initiative is a $3 million pilot project to transform one residential or commercial alley in five Detroit neighborhoods and make them gathering spaces.

“Alleys in our city for years have been havens for illegal dumping and overgrowth and we’re steadily changing that,” said Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan at a press conference Thursday. “Activating neighborhood alleys in this creative way is going to help turn them into real community assets and attractions.”

The Arts Alley initiative is part of Duggan's "Blight to Beauty" campaign. Roughly 2,000 alleys across the city have already been cleared of brush and trash. 

The Detroit Office of Arts, Culture and Entrepreneurship will work with community groups in each of the five designated neighborhoods to pinpoint a specific commercial and residential alley and develop plans. Improvements could new landscaping, improved surfacing and other amenities. 

City officials say they'll partner with local artists and residents "to imbue these improvements with a sense of history, beauty and imagination," according to a press release.

“The COVID 19 pandemic showed us the importance of safe, accessible green spaces in our neighborhoods,” said Rochelle Riley, Detroit's director of arts and culture. “We want to help communities create their own spaces for activities and enjoyment.”

Once the design process is finished later this year — the city is working with Sidewalk Detroit to engage residents in each of the five neighborhoods — construction should start in 2023. City officials say the pilot could be the start for future "neighborhood alley activations" by residents in neighborhoods throughout Detroit.