Poems found on the walls of the city
Over about a 10 year period starting in 1980, poems and pictures on walls across the city began to adorn Kalamazoo.
Thanks to the work of the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry, poems went up on various locations. Each was chosen by the Friends for its readability when seen on a the side of a building.
Conrad Kaufman painted all of the murals in his distinctive style. Funding for the project came from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo.
Although some of the poems have been lost as the city has changed and new owners decided against keeping the murals, many still remain.
The first mural, a poem on the back of the Heritage Building can still be found, today. So can the second to go up on the Barrister Building on Water Street.
A small reminder of the poem and painting at what was once the Koopson’s building remains, though the larger version is gone.
Others an be found on the back of the Parks Trade Center, Gordon’s Water on Vine Street, and at Acme bedding.
Choosing the walls that would wear the poems was something of an art. Friends President Elizabeth Kerlikowske says they had to the be right kind of wall. The poem had to be graspable in the time a car sat at a stop light.
For their work, the Kalamazoo Friends of Poetry was recognized as one of the five best small arts organizations in 2003 by the State of Michigan.
The poetry promoting organization ultimately decided to stop putting up new murals so that its funds could go into new projects like a reading series and a chapbook series.
Kerlikowske, whose organization once presented poetry on buses, says the murals were painted in the same spirit. “We wanted to bring poetry to people who may not seek it out. There is nothing like it for me when I see someone stop to read one of the murals. I feel like we’ve done a good thing.”
(Photos courtesy Kalamazoo Public Library and Friends of Poetry)
(click to see larger image)