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 Madison Heights resident Jennifer Ramirez has painted a mural titled “The Power of Imagination” at the Jaycee shelter building at Civic Center Park. The mural was a major initiative by the Madison Heights Art Board.

Madison Heights resident Jennifer Ramirez has painted a mural titled “The Power of Imagination” at the Jaycee shelter building at Civic Center Park. The mural was a major initiative by the Madison Heights Art Board.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

Art Board makes final 4 of statewide Community Excellence Award

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published August 7, 2019

MADISON HEIGHTS — A newer addition in the city, the Madison Heights Art Board has already left its mark on the community with such eye-catching projects as the city’s first outdoor mural — spanning all four walls of the Jaycee shelter building at the foot of the sled hill at Civic Center Park — as well as a recent photo contest and resulting calendar, a karaoke fundraiser and more. 

And now the board is making waves across the state. Through a mix of online voting by the public and an evaluation by judges, the Madison Heights Art Board has made it to the final four of the prestigious Community Excellence Award, held by the Michigan Municipal League. The overall winner will be determined after presentations are made at a league conference this fall. 

“Being in the final four for this award is a huge deal for the city,” said Madison Heights Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss, who plans to be among the ambassadors at the fall conference. “No program of ours ever made this initial short list, let alone the final four. This will draw some great attention to our city and how we’re driving real change through volunteerism led by a love of the arts.” 

In July, the league announced the final four in the state competition. The Madison Heights entry is titled “Madison Heights Visualizes the Future.” The other three finalists competing for the CEA are Bay City, with the “Uptown Bay City Project”; the city of Dearborn, with “Dearborn’s Unified Dispatch Center”; and Mason, with “City of Mason and Mason Public Schools City Hall Partnership.” 

“Every year it’s exciting to see the innovative ways that Michigan communities are creating vibrant places to live and work,” Dan Gilmartin, the league’s CEO and executive director, said in a statement. “This year was no exception, and I’m especially impressed with the four projects that have risen to the top.”

There were 17 entries in all, involving 17 Michigan communities that competed for the award, which is the highest honor that the league bestows upon a community. 

The league had suggested such topics as civic engagement, innovative delivery of services, place-making and redevelopment. A panel of judges ranked each project, and the public weighed in via online voting, with the final scores based on the judges’ rankings (75%) and online votes (25%), with a total of nearly 10,000 online votes tallied. 

The overall winner of the CEA will be selected at the league’s 2019 convention, which will take place in Detroit Sept. 25-27. Representatives from the final four will present their projects, and after hearing each of the presentations, convention attendees will vote for their favorite, and the winner will be chosen at the end of the convention. 

The Madison Heights Art Board is bound to turn heads with the fruits of its labor, the most striking of which is the massive outdoor mural celebrating the power of the imagination that was rendered across the four walls of the Jaycee shelter building by resident Jennifer Ramirez, who had previously painted murals at Edmonson Elementary School in Madison Heights, as well as at Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township. 

The board includes Kymm Clark, chair; Kirstin Bianchi, vice chair; Susan Burcham, treasurer; Amy Misczak, secretary; Bliss himself, as the City Council representative; Margene Scott as the council alternate; and student reps from both Lamphere and Madison high schools.

The board’s goal is creating public art throughout the city, having raised enough money to create the city’s first outdoor mural, and having also directly or indirectly set in motion other initiatives such as tree plantings, beautification projects and more.

Also, the board has organized a pop-up makers market, an art show, a karaoke event, a citywide photo contest  — including a calendar that features the winning entries — and a discussion series on women challenging the status quo and breaking into the art industry, titled “Women in Art — Creative Career Series: ‘Don’t Tell Me What to Do.’”

“Each member of this board has made an incredibly huge impact on our community with absolutely no budget, and in a short amount of time,” said Bliss, who originally proposed the board. “I’m thrilled that the other cities in the state will now get to hear our story, and hopefully inspire other communities to get started regardless of budget situations.” 

The competition for the award will be tough. 

Bay City transformed a 43-acre riverfront site that was a manufacturing and industrial site for over 100 years and redeveloped it into a mixed-use, walkable, urban feel project, with several community areas, including the Riverwalk, spanning the length of the site and connecting it to existing areas where concerts and activities are held. The project was funded by such sources as brownfield tax increment financing, MBT tax credits, grants and loans. The area is just south of the city’s traditional downtown and connects to it, and has served as a catalyst for other city developments. The second phase is currently underway, further developing the area and solidifying the connection between the downtown and uptown.

The city of Dearborn recently completed an intergovernmental project that resulted in the creation of a state-of-the-art unified dispatch center that incorporates five other communities in Wayne County: Westland, Wayne, Garden City, Inkster and Melvindale. It is a cost-saving project that utilized grant funding to build a center large enough to accommodate multiple dispatch centers at a single facility. As a result, each community has more dispatchers to assist them with emergencies, improved technology, the ability to share crucial information that impacts multiple jurisdictions, and significantly reduced operating costs. 

As for the city of Mason and Mason Public Schools, they’ve created a model to share resources and office space, where the school district moved its administrative staff into offices within Mason City Hall, which was rebuilt in 2009 as a modern, energy-efficient building located in the city’s downtown district. This partnership has allowed them to share resources such as conference rooms, parking and utilities.

Madison Heights City Manager Melissa Marsh, who nominated the board for the award, said she is happy to see the Madison Heights Art Board come this far. 

“Thank you to everyone that voted and supported us daily to help us make it to the final four,” Marsh said. “The Community Excellence Award contest is a fantastic program by the (league) to help market great ideas that can be replicated in almost any city. This is a wonderful opportunity to feature Madison Heights in an upcoming (league) magazine, and highlight how special Madison Heights is because of our residents.”

Call Staff Writer Andy Kozlowski at (586) 279-1104.