Art and the Environment:  Northport Sees the Big Picture

It’s not often that more than 200 people collaborate to create a work of art – but the experience of Northport suggests that more communities should try.

Last September, the Village of Northport dedicated a 32” high, 109’ long Marina Mural, Bay Presents (as in “gifts”), which is quickly becoming a local icon.  Michigan officials are recognizing it as a Michigan Shoreline Public Art Model.

The Village of Northport commissioned Kat Dakota, an artist and designer from Suttons Bay, to create the mural.  Her proposal quickly won support from the Northport Village Council, Northport Marina Committee, the Northport Arts Association, community residents and business leaders.  Kat’s ribbons of color depicting water scenes provided the perfect fit.  It also demonstrated how artists play critical roles in community design and problem solving. 

The “blank wall” the mural occupies resulted from new marina construction.  Some saw it as a problem. The community’s Public Art Committee saw it as an opportunity, and Kat saw it as an inviting challenge.

Kat’s question: how do you create high quality public art that creates community ownership, is economically feasible, sustainable and executable within a short period of time with unpredictable Michigan weather?  Her answer – mill the outline of her artwork into removable panels that people paint indoors.  The grooves served as perfect guides, maintaining the design’s professional presentation.

Following the dedication, people took selfies in front of areas they painted.  Many described the experience as a privilege and one they will never forget.  Kat’s leadership and contagious enthusiasm energized participant confidence and comradery.  The event attracted residents and tourists of all ages and abilities.  Children, teens, adults and those into their 80s worked side-by-side, sharing techniques and making new friends.

The mural is bold, colorful and refreshing.  It expresses familiarity and comfort – yet is new. 

Artist and Designer Kat Dakota by the Northport Mural Plaque

Kat’s artwork resides at the Sleeping Bear Gallery in Empire and Shoreline Arts Gallery in Suttons Bay.  Her dream – take her marketing ideas and creative designs to more communities where officials, business owners, residents and artists join forces in creating visual art that promotes and proves the power of cross-generational collaboration, enhances surroundings and quality of life.

The Northport Village Council enthusiastically approved the mural.  Grants from the Leelanau Township Community Foundation and The Village of Northport’s Marina Fund funded the mural.  Northport residents and the Northport Arts Association provided support.  Kat Dakota presented the ingenious approach and created the design.  The Northport residents and visitors painted the mural.  Result? The “Bay Presents” mural enhanced village identity building economic value and community pride.  Good job, Northport.

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