A new mural, titled “To Serve and Protect,” decorates a wall on the Sterling Heights Police Department.

A new mural, titled “To Serve and Protect,” decorates a wall on the Sterling Heights Police Department.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


Police HQ mural featuring officers’ tiles revealed

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published June 9, 2021

 The large mural is accompanied by tiles designed by police officers and their families, thanks to a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts.

The large mural is accompanied by tiles designed by police officers and their families, thanks to a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Mural artist Nicole MacDonald talks about the project at its June 1 public unveiling.

Mural artist Nicole MacDonald talks about the project at its June 1 public unveiling.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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STERLING HEIGHTS — A new piece of public art is standing guard in the Sterling Heights City Center, near Dodge Park and Utica roads.

During a June 1 ribbon-cutting ceremony, city officials celebrated the public introduction of a new mural outside the front wall of the Sterling Heights Police Department headquarters.

The 20-by-30-foot mural, titled “To Serve and Protect,” arose from a collaboration among the Police Department, the Detroit Institute of Arts and artist Nicole MacDonald.

MacDonald’s large painting of police officers and an American flag is placed above dozens of 8-inch tiles that are lined up in rows. In 2019, Sterling Heights police officers and their families went to the DIA’s tile painting sessions to design and decorate their own tiles.

Chief Dale Dwojakowski said that when the project initially began and was being discussed a couple of years ago, he sat down with a group of officers to decide what the mural should represent.

“And I have the notes from two years ago. ... We said we wanted to represent unity, fraternity, diversity, remembrance and reverence,” the chief said. “And Nicole MacDonald just really nailed it. It is just a phenomenal tribute to our officers.”

Dwojakowski also remembered attending a mural tile painting session with his family and other police families. He said the tiles reflect what Sterling Heights means to them. He added that three tiles at the mural display honor three Sterling Heights officers who died in the line of duty over the department’s history: Officer Leroy Imus, Officer Mark Sawyers and Capt. Norman Stolzenfeld.

“It is really just very fitting that they’re included with this wonderful piece of artwork, and it turned out so, so well,” Dwojakowski said.  

During the mural unveiling, MacDonald said that around two years ago, she painted her contribution to the project in her studio — before it was later turned into a mural. She mentioned that she talked to Dwojakowksi and learned that some of his favorite artwork was impressionistic. Referencing her painting, she noted the clouds and “gentle, subtle strokes” in her composition.

“I think it’s somewhat of a unique piece in that it’s a moment of contemplation, introspection and peace,” she said of the mural.

But MacDonald said she also took great interest in watching the police families design the tiles.

“I saw some officers really struggle with their pieces to create something that was personal, family history and something that they wanted to preserve for generations, hopefully,” she said.

“It made me think — one thing that I’m really attracted to about art is that it really puts me in the moment, completely in the moment. And I think probably that being a police officer is similar, that you have to be very present.”

DIA Deputy Director of Art, Education and Programs Judith Dolkart said this was Macomb County’s first project for Partners in Public Art, a program that organizes public art collaborations within metro Detroit.

“Projects like these are not only monuments of personal meaning, they are public expressions of that meaning, as well,” Dolkart said, later adding: “We hope that the meaning behind this artwork — service, honor, fraternity — is enjoyed by the community for years to come.”

City officials say the mural aligns with the city’s commitment to public art, placemaking and quality of life. According to Sterling Heights Community Relations Director Melanie Davis, the city waited to display the mural due to the Police Department building’s recent renovations, which she said have gone on for around 18 months.

“We couldn’t install the mural until the renovations were nearly completed, so when we were finally able to install, that’s how we chose the timing of the unveiling,” she said.

Davis said the DIA paid for commissioning the mural artist as well as supplies, while the city paid $6,000 for vinyl and installation.

See the outdoor mural by visiting the Sterling Heights Police Department headquarters, 40333 Dodge Park Road in Sterling Heights. Learn more about the city by visiting www.sterling-heights.net or by calling (586) 446-2489.

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