The Ann Arbor Art Center’s A2AC Murals project pairs downtown building owners with muralists from Ann Arbor and around the world to embellish a portion of the West Side which the organization and local businesses have dubbed Ann Arbor’s “creative district.” At a time when many in the community are struggling financially, including some vital service organizations, launching a crowdfunding campaign in support of public art could seem frivolous. “I absolutely wanted to cancel,” says Marie Klopf, executive director of the Ann Arbor Art Center. “But I got so much pushback from the team. ‘This is the perfect time,’ they said.”

They found a $50,000 grant through the Michigan Economic Development Corporation that would support the project if it could be matched by donations from the public. The donations came in. “I am still blown away,” says Klopf. “We didn’t let this stop us from being a creative community and investing in that. How wonderful to have something beautiful born in a time in darkness.”

The Art Center commissioned the murals from ten artists with a diverse range of styles, ethnicities, and points of view. Artist Gary Horton is an Ann Arbor native who studied fine art at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. As a student he worked with oil paint but lived with graffiti artists who taught him to create illicit works of public art with spray paint. These two styles blend in his futuristic skyscape populated by electric eyes opposite the Circ Bar’s new outdoor patio. Horton used a cherry picker to reach the higher portions of the wall.

“Being a muralist took my career to the next level,” he says. “I just think this is a great time to be an artist. I mean, if you’re bad at anything, this is your chance to get good at it. Seriously–sharpen your game. That’s what I did.”

Chris Dokebi moved to Ann Arbor three years ago with his wife, a grad student at U-M. He works as a graphic designer by day under another name, and in his free time creates illustrations featuring a character called Dokebin, based on the Korean nature spirit Dokkaebi. “The Korean spirits play pranks on people but they are playful in a juvenile deliquanty kind of way– not evil,” he says.

To simplify things, we’ll just call him Chris. When he planned his mural for the alleyway beside the 8 Ball Saloon, “Covid had just started and I was missing hanging out with my friends,” he says.”So I tried to make a crew having fun at 8 Ball. He’s got a dart in his head, he’s drinking a beer. Each one is modeled after one of my friends.”

Chris is half Korean, and his style is influenced by Korean folklore as well as cartoons, animation, and graffiti. For the 8 Ball mural, “I came a couple of days before and projected the image onto the wall and sketched out the design,” he says. “I would love to be the guy who could just freestyle the concept but this is my first one and I wanted to be sure it turned out well.”

Artworks for the A2AC Murals project were completed in August and September. Visit for details and a map of locations.