From top left: Lincoln Street Art Park (Photo via Facebook); Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum (Photo via francis mckee on Flickr); Desiree Kelly's Aretha Franklin mural (Photo courtesy of Desiree Kelly); a mural in Detroit's Mexicantown (Photo via Tara on Flickr); A scene from The Heidelberg Project (Photo via Nic Redhead on Flickr)
From top left: Lincoln Street Art Park (Photo via Facebook); Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum (Photo via francis mckee on Flickr); Desiree Kelly's Aretha Franklin mural (Photo courtesy of Desiree Kelly); a mural in Detroit's Mexicantown (Photo via Tara on Flickr); A scene from The Heidelberg Project (Photo via Nic Redhead on Flickr)

Iconic murals, sprawling museums, and entire neighborhoods devoted to art: a visit to Detroit makes for some inspiring and safer summer exploration.

DETROIT, MI — When The ‘Gander asked readers if they planned to attend any of the larger-scale festivals still scheduled across the state this summer, the consensus was clear: It’s not worth the risk. 

“Definitely NO. Safety from the virus is far more important to me,” one Facebook commenter said. 

A chorus of similar comments followed: 

“Hard NO.” 

“Na … I’ll pass … ” 

“Seems like those currently refusing to wear masks are now spoiling it for all festivals and activities coming up,” said one. “Hopefully they won’t cause the state to shut down again and lose the ground we made. Look at how some of the other states are now.”

But don’t be too bummed about skipping out on your favorite summer festivals this year. Today, we’re taking a look at some of Detroit’s spectacular outdoor art installations, whose brilliant displays feature a mix of festive feeling and powerful messaging — and they’re just waiting for some new wanderers. 

Add these one-of-a-kind living art environments to your socially distant summer plans and you won’t miss those packed, sweaty festivals one bit. 

Extraordinary Art, Up Close and Personal

Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum | 6559 Grand River Ave, Detroit, MI 48208 

Dabls Mbad African Bead Museum (Photo via soupstance on Flickr)

You can spot this dazzling, eclectic museum, which occupies almost an entire city block, glinting in the sun from a mile away. This 16-year-old space houses 18 outdoor installations as well as the African Bead Gallery, N’kisi House and African Language Wall. 

Born of founder Olayami Dabls’ own visual cosmology, he originally aimed to create a space for his community to visualize and understand the immense power of their African heritage. Now, according to their website, Dabls’ MBAD African Bead Museum is a quiet revolution that sparks a vital conversation with global and local audiences. 

The sculpture gardens and bead gallery alone draw thousands from around the world each year, including internationally renowned artists and icons like Wesley Snipes and Quentin Tarantino. Throw your name in among theirs and immerse yourself in this absolutely unique world.

The Murals of Southwest Detroit | Mexicantown 

Photo via Tara on Flickr

Detroit’s Mexicantown is known as a down-to-earth neighborhood, home to traditional Mexican restaurants and grocers, old-school bakeries, and cultural centers showcasing Latinx art. You can find some of the most breathtaking artwork, though, painted right on the brick and mortar that makes up the culturally rich neighborhood itself. 

WDIV-TV (Channel 4) put together a driving tour of some of local muralist Elton Monroy-Duran’s community-based works, but here are some examples of the kinds of the murals you may happen upon if you go exploring yourself.   

Lincoln Street Art Park | 5926 Lincoln St, Detroit, MI 48208 

Photo via Facebook

Lincoln Street Art Park’s mantra: “If you build it, they will come. If they build it, they will stay.” This former industrial site on the other side of a recycling center is now an ever-evolving outdoor studio, where one-of-a-kind sculptures and vibrant murals delight visitors to what Daily Detroit calls a “truly grassroots artistic wonderland.” 

And according to Atlas Obscura, each of the large-scale sculptures are made from salvaged or recycled materials, adding an environmentally conscious feel to this side street’s hidden gem.  

Don’t miss the park’s monthly Full Moon party — just remember to wear your mask while you frolic in the moonlight, please. 

The Heidelberg Project | 3600 Heidelberg St, Detroit, MI 48207

Photo via Nic Redhead on Flickr

This living art environment on Detroit’s east side was created in 1986. In part, it’s a political protest, but for artist Tyree Guyton, it was also a homecoming. When he came back to his childhood neighborhood on Heidelberg Street after serving in the army, he was astonished to see how deteriorated it had become since the civil unrest of 1967. So he transformed it. 

Now, Heidelberg Street is an outdoor art environment in the heart of an urban area featuring a fascinating collection of artwork and found objects. Take your time to meander through the space and think on HP’s vision: that a community can re-develop and sustain itself, from the inside out, by embracing its diverse cultures and artistic attributes as the essential building blocks for a fulfilling and economically viable way of life.

The Iconic Murals of Desiree Kelly | All over! 

Photo courtesy of Desiree Kelly

ICYMI, The ‘Gander recently talked to local muralist Desiree Kelly about her famous, punchy paintings of politicians, entertainers, and thought leaders, from Aretha to Hillary to Wesley Snipes. 

“[My art uses] these political public figures [and] adds a different personality to connect them to the community,” she said. “I add a lot of playful elements, like colorful glasses and sort of graffiti backgrounds to tie in the two.”

Don’t miss the chance to check out her larger-than-life portraits in person, and take the kiddos along for a history lesson they won’t soon forget. 

If you take a trip to any of these awesome open-air art environments this summer, let us know what you thought about ‘em on social media @gandernewsroom — and definitely show us your artsy selfies! (Bonus points for face masks. 😉)

Big thanks to all photographers whose images contributed to this post. The Creative Commons license can be found here.