The site is a plain, worn, dreary concrete wall where a main artery to our city meets Grand River Avenue—the I-96 business loop that runs through Portland. Divine Highway connects the surrounding rural townships to Portland, which serves as the most significant “city” for many of those residents. At one time, the City affixed a fake-stone façade to the wall, but moisture destroyed the adhesive, and it had to be removed. The wall panels range from 4’ to 12’8” in height, and the panels span 286’ in length. A sidewalk runs its length, providing easy access to our 8.5 miles of trails.
On the corner across Grand River from the wall is ADM Nutrition, an animal-feed manufacturer that’s provided important employment opportunities in Portland for decades. A small café and residential areas are within a block, and our historic downtown district (a Master-Level Main Street community) is also one block away. Most people driving, walking, or biking near our downtown pass this wall. It paints a dismal picture of the city, which is far from accurate. This biking and walking route takes residents and visitors from downtown and its surrounding residential neighborhoods to the freeway corridor, where our only grocery store is located. It could be an important pedestrian route, but it’s largely avoided.
We intend to create a mural on the wall – a landscape representing Portland, designed through community collaboration. The landscape will be “painted” entirely by community members’ handprints and silhouettes.
The project is more than a mural on a blank wall. It is a living, breathing representation of the entire community—literally and figuratively. As members come together to create the overall design, they will start to learn how their neighbors see the community—the similarities and the differences. As they begin to see the design take shape, and they learn how thousands of handprints will create a mural that reflects the community, they will begin to understand that the community as a whole is more than meets the eye when you look closer. As they put their hands in the paint and place a part of themselves on the wall—as they see the handprints take the shape of tree trunks, leaves, and trails—the concept will deepen, until many of them gain a new understanding: an analogy to the ways individuals completely shape the community around them when they come together as one. To the naked eye, the finished mural will appear to be what it represents—a beautiful painting of Portland. But the community will see the difference. Anyone who looks closely will see that we are a sum of our parts.