Repurposing Detroit Street Art

In the concrete and steel landscape of the City of Detroit, colorful street art thrives and grows in two unique locations. These stunning murals provided the materials and inspiration that would eventually become Rebel Nell’s jewelry made from repurposed materials.

The Dequindre Cut is a below-grade pathway, formerly a Grand Trunk Western Railroad line. Initially built in 1830 at grade level, the City of Detroit dropped the railroad line below street level in the 1920s to help ease traffic congestion in the bustling industrial city. As the century progressed and rail use declined, the city slowly decommissioned many of the rail lines. The railroad halted the use of the Dequindre Cut entirely in 1985. The abandoned Dequindre Cut became a breeding ground for graffiti artists attracted to the concrete bridge abutments and overpasses. The structures protected the art from the weather and kept the late-night artists out of sight from the authorities.

In 2003 the GreenWays Initiative granted the Downtown Detroit Partnership $98,000 to coordinate a plan to remake 1.2 miles of the Dequindre Cut into an urban greenway. The project was funded by another $3.4 million in grants and opened to the public in 2009. The Dequindre Cut now connects the East Riverfront and several residential neighborhoods to Eastern Market with pedestrian and bike paths, indigenous plants, graffiti, and other urban artwork.

In 2016 another half mile of the Dequindre Cut was completed with a $10 million grant as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It included a trailhead entrance at Eastern Market, a canopy, bike racks, and seating. Today, the Dequindre Cut is part of a much larger path of parks, pavilions, and greenspace that run along the Detroit River. 

At the other end of Detroit is The Alley Project, a garage studio and alley gallery highlighting legal street art produced by local youth and community members. Artists, teens, and neighbors have worked together to build a foundation for creative expression that highlights the community’s diversity. The Alley Project provides opportunities for youth to enjoy the street art subculture without vandalizing property or joining gangs.

The Alley Project is an initiative of Young Nation, a nonprofit organization promoting youth development in urban settings through building relationships, community education, and passion-driven projects. Since 2004, The Alley Project has evolved from four garage door canvases to a hub that includes alleys and adjacent vacant lots in their Southwest Detroit neighborhood. Artists, youth, and neighbors gather weekly in the studio and around the community to work on new projects, discuss challenges, share ideas, and maintain the spaces.

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