Work begins today on the Women’s Way public art initiative, which kicks off with four separate Downtown murals intentionally designed to honor historic local women leaders, enhance often overlooked alleyways and continue to elevate Grand Rapids’ reputation as a hub for public art in the State of Michigan.

The Women’s Way initiative also boldly endeavors to acknowledge the complicated history of women in alleyways and help claim positive ownership of these public spaces.

The following original creative work will begin, weather permitting the first week of July 2020:

  • Local artist Jasmine Bruce will begin painting the mural of Harriet Woods Hill, the first African American Woman to serve as an officer in the Grand Rapids Police Department. The mural will be in the alley off Louis St. NW at the northwest corner of GRPD headquarters.
  • Local artist Esan Sommersell will begin painting the mural of Ethel Coe, a renaissance woman who was a community activist, musician, actor and civil rights leader. The mural will be in the alley off Monroe Ave NW on the northside of 20 Monroe Live.
  • Local artist Alan Compo will begin painting the mural of Angeline Kelsey "Naw Kay O Say" Yob, who was an educator, community activist and Citizen of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians. She worked three decades with Grand Rapids Public Schools in the Native American Education Program. The mural will in the alley off Sheldon Ave NE between the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and The Apartment Lounge.
  • Local artist Michi Farias will begin painting the mural of the Grand Rapids Chicks 1945 All American Baseball Team. The mural will be in the alley off of Newberry St. NW behind Auto Fixit Body Shop.

These murals showcasing local women leaders mark the first interventions to improve these alleyways. Importantly, the currently nameless alleyways will be officially named - and marked with commemorative street signage - in honor of the women leaders highlighted at each space. This is an intentional gesture that aims to call attention to the fact that women’s names – relative to men’s – are not often assigned to public and private buildings and property.

While additional creative details for each individual alleyway continue to come together, other improvements will include movable furniture for seating, planters, lighting, a biographical plaque about each woman and periodic pop-up programming to further energize the space.

The Women's Way Initiative, first announced in March 2020, is a collaborative effort of the City of Grand Rapids, the Greater Grand Rapids Women's History Council, Lions & Rabbits Creative Arts & Events Space, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and several local businesses and institutional partners.

Underutilized alleyways exist across the City of Grand Rapids. And local history is rich with numerous important and interesting stories of women’s leadership. The Women's Way Initiative in the future has the potential to grow beyond Downtown Grand Rapids. Interested neighborhood and community leaders can contact Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. if they seek to learn more about the process of establishing a new Women's Way project site.

Stay tuned to DGRI’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn for project updates.

Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library
Photos courtesy of the Grand Rapids Public Library