A smiling student stands with a backpack slung over her shoulder, books and notebooks held in hand, no mask in sight. A reminder of simpler times. Elsewhere, recent graduates throw their hats in the air and a father teaches his son how to skateboard. A student pulls his friend into a party. The State Theatre and Bell Tower both stand tall, proud monuments of Ann Arbor and the University. These are some, but not all, of the frames in the new mural that has come to downtown Ann Arbor. Located right behind Potbelly Sandwich Shop off of East Liberty and State, this 15-foot high work of art showcases the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor at their best. 

The new mural, according to a press release published by Oxford Companies, contains, “scenes depicting student life at the University of Michigan, notable landmarks throughout Ann Arbor, family activities, and collegiate athletics.” Matthew Sharum, 46, was the artist contracted by Oxford to design and paint this mural.

Sharum is a lifelong resident of southeast Michigan. He attended Eastern Michigan University before moving to southern California and apprenticing for an artist in California. After five years, he moved back to Michigan. Creating a mural in Ann Arbor, a city so close to his hometown, Madison Heights, was special.

“Being a Michigan resident for much of my life, it’s a real honor to contribute to a locally focused installation to Ann Arbor’s world class public art scene,” Sharum said in Oxford’s press release. In an interview with The Michigan Daily, Sharum expanded more on his connection to Michigan and what the goal of the mural was.

“I did go to Eastern. So I spent a fair amount of time on the weekends in Ann Arbor… it is, I think, more southeast Michigan that I’m connected to,” said Sharum. “Their [Oxford’s] theme was called ‘Town and Gown.’ They wanted it to be the convergence of school life and city life since they’re in a big college town.”

After hearing all of this, I was intrigued and I decided to check out the mural with my own eyes. I dragged myself out of my apartment for the first time in what seemed like days, rubbing the screen-induced fuzziness from my vision. I found it located in the alleyway between Potbelly’s and the building that once held the now-closed SNAP Pizza (rest in peace). 

The first thing I noticed was the vibrancy of it all. Shades of blue, red, yellow and green burst out of the mural. On a gloomy fall day, these colors were particularly welcoming. I spent plenty of time trying to figure out the perfect angle that I needed to stand at to make the 3D portion of the mural stand out. Matthew had told me on the phone that he had painted some feet somewhere in the alley where, if you stood, you got the mural in its full 3D effect, but I couldn’t find them. 

The experience was also a reminder of all that Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan have to offer. This semester, it’s been hard to realize that life exists outside of my Canvas page. The mural was a nice reminder of the color, life, and excitement that I’ve come to love here at the University.

Melissa Gumenick, Associate Director, Business Development at Oxford Companies expressed Oxford’s pleasure with the mural, and stated why they commissioned Sharum to create it.

“The Oxford family is so honored to have the opportunity to enhance the downtown experience in Ann Arbor with Matthew’s work. Part of our mission is to provide not just our customers, but our community with the best experiences in and around our buildings and neighborhoods,” Gumenick said. “We hope everyone takes the time to experience this new work when they visit the State Street District of our hometown.”

For Sharum, murals and public art are important to cities and what they stand for.

“When you have a lot of public art you can just walk around and appreciate peoples’ artwork. It’s like an outdoor museum in a way,” said Sharum. “Public art becomes a symbol of a community. It reflects the goals and aspirations of people who live in that area.”

Daily Arts Writer Peter Hummer can be reached at hummerp@umich.edu.

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