Growing up in the Flint area, Charlie Boike spent a lot of time on his skateboard.
“As a kid, or teenager, I was real big into, like, aggressive skating or rollerblading, and hip hop,” he said, adding that those interests led him to find his lifelong passion: street art.
“When you’re skating on the streets, you get introduced to graffiti, and I was infatuated with street art and then from there … street art always remained a passion for me,” he said.
Now, Boike has painted a variety of murals across the city of Flint and participates every year in the Free City Mural Festival.
The festival, run by the Flint Public Art Project, began in 2018. Since its start it has produced more than 260 murals throughout Flint.
Festival coordinator Sandra Branch said the festival arose because she and Joe Schipani, the festival’s other coordinator, wanted to change the reputation of Flint from being the location of the water crisis to being an “art destination.”
“[We] decided to go in the direction of mural festivals to paint our town beautiful and put a juxtaposition of beauty where there is blight,” Branch explained that while the festival began with vacant or condemned buildings as canvases, she and other organizers now seek owner permission to paint on the blank walls of occupied or vacant but un-condemned structures since safety concerns arose earlier this year.
“We can only put murals on buildings that are safe now since that one collapsed in Brush Alley,” she said. “So we can’t do condemned buildings and partially broken-down buildings.”
Branch said there have been about 21 murals painted so far for this year’s festival, but she’s hoping it will be closer to 30 once all the artists are finished.
Boike, for example, has not yet painted his mural for the 2023 festival. He said he plans for the mural to be an ode to his mom and her glass-based art, with themes of law and justice because he and his mom are both attorneys.
He estimated the mural, to be painted at 3240 Lapeer Road, will likely take him about three days to complete.
While Boike is looking to get started within the next few weeks, Flint Beat caught up with muralist Christian Fenn as he was on his way home to the United Kingdom after completing his mural, located at 2401 Lapeer Road.
Fenn said he worked on the wall with another artist, Hayley Garner, and their mural is related to their organization, The Butterfly Effected, which uses art to portray positive messages, particularly for those who have been through abuse, trauma, mental health issues and addiction.
Fenn and Garner’s mural, called “Spitting Feathers,” shows a portrait resembling Fenn with feathers and a bird coming from his mouth.
Fenn said the portrait is based on him because of his own past with addiction and mental health struggles. He said the feathers represent venting frustration and talking about personal problems.
“It’s like finding peace when you talk,” Fenn said. “If you talk, you know, your problem is gonna get lighter, it’s gonna get easier.”
Fenn said art is an outlet for him to be creative instead of falling back into his former addiction or thinking patterns. “[I] get creative rather than going backwards,” he said.
Kenneth Dushane, or “Phybr,” a festival muralist from Kansas City, Missouri and Toledo, Ohio also recently completed his mural on Lapeer Road.
Like Fenn and Garner’s mural, Phybr’s is also deeply personal. It’s called “Black Magic” and details a portrait of his wife.
He said the two were separated for a few years but recently got back together, and the imagery is meant to reflect their shared spirituality.
“There’s a whole lot of, like, self-healing and a whole lot of, like, emotion. Old emotions, new emotions,” he said, adding that he’s painted for the mural festival since 2020 and appreciates the creative freedom it provides.
To take a tour of Flint’s many murals, residents can download Pixel Stix, an app that includes a map of murals’ locations and the artists they were painted by.
For those not inclined to download an app, here are some of the newly-painted locations from this year’s festival:
- Jester’s Plaza at 3112 North Center Road
- Big Guns Tattoo at 1909 Davison Road
- United Missionary Baptist Church at 6440 Clio Road
- CME Barber & Beauty Supply at 6502 North Saginaw St.
- MESCO Integrated Materials at 2401 Lapeer Road
- Borneman & Peterson, Inc. at 3240 Lapeer Road.
- Grace Cathedral Community Church at 1709 Nebraska Ave.
- The Machine Shop at 3539 Dort Highway
- Sylvester Broome Empowerment Village at 4119 Saginaw St.
- Weaver Family Dentist at 2740 Flushing Road
- 319 Court St.