When event designer and producer Melinda Anderson was tapped by Bedrock to create an “Instagramable moment” for Parker’s Alley, she had plenty of ideas. After all, the native Detroiter owns the boutique event design and production company Studio M Detroit, through which she’s conceived installations for popular local events like Movement festival and Eastern Market After Dark. Anderson also served as creative director for Detroit Month of Design for eight years.
She decided on a large heart installation, now known as the Parker’s Alley Heart. Anderson immediately got to work designing the installs, sourcing materials, and hiring local creatives to build them. She sought out artists and vendors who may not have had the opportunity to work with high-profile companies such as Bedrock if not for this project.
The first design was the “313 Heart,” which debuted on Valentine’s Day 2021. The heart — welded by the team at Detroit-based Prop Art Studio, which designs large-scale props and sculptures for commercial clients — featured neon pink lights and red buckets. “Once a guest would stop, I wanted them to know that anything can be used to create a moment of art and design,” Anderson says of the buckets. To make the installation even more interactive, she connected with street performer Deon Forrest to use some of the buckets as drums and perform in the alley. “During COVID, there was a big moment of artists and designers using ordinary items in their houses to create installations.”
Five more variations of the installation have been installed since then, each staying up for a little over three weeks. The “St. Patrick’s Day Heart” featured green buckets and a rainbow arch made of flowers designed by Amber Kirkland of The Velvet Touch Events in Novi. A tiger mural painted by artist Ryan Wheeler came to life on the “Tiger’s Day Heart,” which debuted in time for Opening Day. A local couple even had a wedding photo taken in front of the design. For Mother’s Day, the “She Is Heart” was adorned in custom multicolor flowers by Joy Bradley of event décor business Joy x Design. And Halima Cassells — the muse for Sydney James’ mural Girl With the D Earring — created a futuristic galaxy design for the “Thomas Parker Heart.” Anderson says the heart was intended to honor the alley’s namesake — one of the first Black landowners in Detroit — as well as commemorate Juneteenth.
The current installation, “Garden Heart,” is up through early August. It features real plants and a neon sign with the message “grow with us,” which Anderson says is meant to encourage people to support small businesses in Parker’s Alley. She has gone to the installation every day to water the greenery.
Anderson says the Parker’s Alley Heart series will be around for at least a few more months. Another design is currently in production, and she and the Bedrock team are still determining a potential final installation.
The Heart has been a hit since its debut. People have lined up down the alley for a chance to snap their photos, and it’s been clear to Anderson that the installation has become more than the social media sensation she and the Bedrock team planned it to be — it’s a tool for promoting the area’s many creatives. “There are a lot of vendors of color, a lot of artists that don’t get the recognition that they deserve,” she says says. “I utilize [the installation] as my platform to make connections.”
And on top of that, it’s also become a symbol of hope for the community. “These have been really dark times,” Anderson says, “and I’ve seen how unexpectedly art and design has been used to uplift spirits.”