Alumnus Dustin Hunt is breathing artistic life into the Lansing community by filling blank walls with vibrant murals while teaching and inspiring a whole new generation of artists in the process.
Through his math-based, youth-centered mural-making business, Muralmatics, Hunt, who graduated from MSU in 2007 with an Art Education degree, is enhancing the beauty and strength of the Lansing community by working with artists, nonprofit organizations, and youth to create large-scale murals.
Muralmatics collaborates with local schools and organizations to blend aspects of design, public art, and mathematical concepts to increase math literacy and inspire service within the community. By incorporating pre-algebra concepts like ratios, pricing, and measuring into mural projects, Hunt is teaching math in an alternative way.
The Muralmatics curriculum begins with a pre-assessment and team-building challenges and then moves on to creating the blueprint for the mural in a way that aligns with project goals. Once the blueprint is complete, mural preparation begins, followed by execution and post-assessment.
I wanted to be a person that facilitated something that students can be involved in and that also respects the Salus Center and who they serve.DUSTIN HUNT
Hunt has completed three projects with Muralmatics so far, starting in summer 2018 with his partnership with REACH Studio Art Center to create a mural for the Salus Center, an LGBTQ community space and resource center. Hunt collaborated with REACH students to paint geometric portraits of 10 Salus Center patrons surrounding the word “salus,” a Latin word associated with wholeness and well-being.
“That was my first official Muralmatics project and it included high school and a few middle school students and trying to figure out how to synthesize their ideas and also hear out the perspective of the Salus Center,” Hunt said. “I wanted to be a person that facilitated something that students can be involved in and that also respects the Salus Center and who they serve.”
This work served as a catalyst for Hunt’s next two Muralmatics projects, both of which included a partnership with Communities in Schools of Michigan and J.W. Sexton High School students during fall 2018 and spring 2019. For both those projects, Hunt brainstormed with students and teachers to cultivate a unifying message that the students later painted on two walls within the school.
Creator of Below the Stacks Festival
While working with the Lansing community over the past year and a half, Hunt co-founded and directed an even bigger mural-making project, Below the Stacks, a citywide mural festival in Lansing. The festival took place September 15-21, 2019, and featured live mural painting at multiple locations across Lansing, family friendly workshops, artist lectures, live entertainment, an all-ages hip-hop show, and video reveal of the murals.
Street artists that were featured in the festival hailed all the way from Korea to Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Lansing. They transformed highly visible blank walls into artistically rich and vibrant murals. Each artist came to the festival with their own personal style, which influenced their work and allowed for diverse artworks to spread across Lansing.
“Organizing the festival was challenging and exciting,” Hunt said. “We wanted to make this festival a really big deal and let as many people know as possible. So planning in that aspect with so many community partners invested in us, was stressful at times and rewarding in the end.”
Besides organizing the festival, Hunt also participated by painting a mural depicting a young Stevie Wonder, located just around the corner from the former Michigan School for the Deaf and Blind, where Stevie Wonder once studied classical piano.
Music has been a constant influence for Hunt’s mural-making and work with youth. As a radio DJ for WDBM 88.9 during his time at MSU, Hunt networked with hip-hop artists in Michigan and gained lifelong connections. After graduation, he stayed in touch with the musicians and invited them to visit his classroom to workshop with students.
“Having this avenue into the hip-hop community through the radio station at MSU was just massive, and that actually informed my teaching practice for years to come,” Hunt said. “Wherever I’ve gone, it seems like hip hop has followed, and this was something that was cultivated at MSU.”
How Muralmatics Was Conceived
Now an artistic force in the Lansing community, however, mural making wasn’t something that was always on Hunt’s radar. After graduating from MSU in 2007 and earning his teaching certification in 2008, he started his teaching career in Chicago Public Schools, where he taught high school art for one year before relocating to Portland, Oregon. There, he worked as a tutor for students experiencing homelessness and working toward earning their GED, which is where the idea for Muralmatics first began.
As Hunt tutored students, he noticed a pattern of math comprehension test scores being lower than other testing areas for the GED.
“Right away, I started drawing out math examples, talking about architecture, city planning, and considering all these visual things that are happening around us while I tutored,” Hunt said. “That was the beginning of Muralmatics, which kind of brought my art and design background together with analytical reasoning to teach math in a different way, so students could start to consider math in a new way.”
After developing a business plan and buying the necessary equipment for Muralmatics, Hunt ended up back in Michigan, where he built the Muralmatics curriculum and has continued to grow the business over the past two years.
In the future, Hunt hopes Muralmatics will transform into a youth development program where students are able to lead projects and graduate from the program to become leaders and teachers for younger students.
Written by Annie Dubois