Murals in the Market Could Be Impacted As Historic Designation Process Moves Forward

The city is considering naming the area an official historic district, which would give a city board authority over approving new murals going forward. Local businesses have concerns.

Murals in the Market, the annual public art festival based in Eastern Market and produced by arts collective 1xRun, invites local and global artists to the Detroit-area each year and commissions them to put up new art in the warehouse district. Now in its fifth year, it has been called one of the best mural festivals in the world. 

But if Eastern Market gets designated an official historic district, that could complicate how organizers approach the festival as new murals would need to be cleared by an advisory board, according to officials at a recent public meeting. 

“We’re not the art police, it’s part and parcel of the process of putting a mural on a building.”  – Janese Chapman, Historic Designation Advisory Board

“The Historic District Commission has approved murals throughout the city of Detroit, not just Eastern Market,” said Janese Chapman, Deputy Director of the Historic Designation Advisory Board. “We’re not the art police, it’s part and parcel of the process of putting a mural on a building.”  

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Chapman made these comments during a community engagement meeting on Tuesday convened by the board to address Eastern Market’s eligibility to become a local historic district. The board’s function is to “ensure the preservation of historically and culturally significant areas of the city,” according to the city website, but City Council has final approval over which local areas should be designated. The current study area for Eastern Market is Mack, St. Aubin, Rivard and both sides of Gratiot.

Google Maps
Google Maps

Existing murals on buildings will be part of the historical character of a building if historic designation is assigned. Future murals in a historic district, Chapman said, would have to be reviewed by the Historic District Commission. She said that the HDC will not dictate what the art must look like but it must go through the commission, and they will review each future mural project on a case-by-case basis.  

The proposal has drawn concern from business owners and residents. 

Maureen Kearns, who owns two businesses in Eastern Market, came to the meeting because she wanted to know what impact a historic district designation would have on development and whether or not Murals in the Market would be stopped or restricted because of the designation.

“I’m not sure I got any of those questions answered well, but I feel like I explained to the staff here that that’s what people want to know,” Kearns said.

A second community engagement hearing will be held before a preliminary report determining eligibility will be submitted to the Historic District Commission for review.


  • Eleanore Catolico

    Eleanore Catolico is Civic Reporter with 101.9 WDET, covering local affairs with the Detroit Documenters program. She enjoys techno.