In celebration of Women’s History Month, Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. announces that an original mural of Maurilia Ortiz Blakely will serve as the focal point of the next installment in the Women’s Way Initiative, a public art project designed to honor local women leaders, enhance Downtown alleyways and give people another reason to explore the Downtown neighborhoods.

Local artist Arturo Romero will start work on the approximately 40-foot tall mural this spring, as soon as weather permits, in the alley that runs off Fulton Street between San Chez Bistro and Back Forty Saloon. Romero will paint the mural on the southwest corner of the building that houses San Chez Bistro at 38 Fulton Street West.

Maurilia Ortiz Blakely (1928 - 2015) was a role model, a champion for minority women’s rights, an activist for the poor and an advocate for higher education. Orphaned at an early age, her maternal aunt raised her to have great respect for their Mexican heritage and to help the less fortunate.

Blakely was a force in the community and helped organize Grand Rapids’ first Mexican Festival in 1970. After graduating from college with a degree in Social Work at age 51, she assisted Latinx students, women, migrants, the homeless, and the unemployed and helped to establish the Hispanic Institute. Among her many honors was a Grand Rapids Lifetime Achievement Award.

Current concept and location for the mural of Molly Ortiz Blakely. Rendering subject to change based on approval from the City of Grand Rapids’ Art Advisory Committee.
Current concept and location for the mural of Molly Ortiz Blakely. Rendering subject to change based on approval from the City of Grand Rapids’ Art Advisory Committee.

This work is a continuation of the Women’s Way alley activation initiative, first announced in March 2020. The initiative aspires to elevate the historical narratives of exceptional local leaders while adding new energy and creative interest to often-overlooked public places. It also boldly endeavors to acknowledge the complicated history of women in alleyways and help claim positive ownership of these spaces.

Women’s Way 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.

Previous Women’s Way work over the past year includes:

A mural of Harriet Woods Hill, the first African American Woman to serve as an officer in the Grand Rapids Police Department, in the alley off Louis St. NW at the northwest corner of GRPD headquarters.

A mural of Ethel Coe, a renaissance woman, community activist, musician, actor and civil rights leader, in the alley off Monroe Ave NW on the northside of 20 Monroe Live.

A mural of Angeline Kelsey "Naw Kay O Say" Yob, educator, community activist and Citizen of the Grand River Bands of Ottawa Indians, in the alley off Sheldon Ave NE between the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum and The Apartment Lounge.

A mural of the Grand Rapids Chicks 1945 All American Baseball Team in the alley off of Newberry St. NW behind Auto Fixit Body Shop.

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. at 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.

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