Tour of Detroit graffiti unveils a hidden world

Graffiti Art in DetroitAn abandoned building in Detroit is an eyesore for many; but to some urban artists, it’s a blank canvas.

“We are an empty canvas,” said graffiti writer Freddy Diaz. “I want to give Detroit something better to look at.”

University of Michigan-Dearborn presented a two-part series last week on graffiti art in Detroit. The series included a panel discussion on March 25, featuring panelists Matt Eaton from the Library Street Collective, Erick Howard from the Alley Project, Freddy Diaz, and photographer Tom Stoye.

Howard approaches graffiti as a way to build community and aims to provide a legal space for youth to experiment with art. To him, graffiti art is a mentoring tool and a way to clean up his neighborhoods and garages that were unkempt and covered with gang graffiti.

Detroit youth are often involved in these community art projects, including the Detroit Beautification project.

The gallery for graffiti isn’t in a museum. Most of it is located along the Creative Corridor in Detroit. Students boarded a bus at UM-Dearborn for a tour of graffiti sites in Detroit Saturday March 29.

“I still find myself looking for and reading—trying to read—tags around the city,” said UM-Dearborn student Khai Krumbhaar. “It’s like I have a view into a world I didn’t previously know existed, a world of territory conflicts and battle of respect fought with art.”

Expanding that understanding of what modern day art is was exactly the intention of this series. Students left the panel and the tour with a better understanding of graffiti as an art and a culture. And many left inspired.

“After the tour my mind was filled with shapes and color,” said Khai.  “I had to drag out my paints.”

The series was presented by the Art History Department and the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies program, in collaboration with the American Studies program and Metropolitan Engagement Series. For more information on the Metropolitan Engagement series at UM-Dearborn, contact Jon Larson at

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