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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Art on the Streets of Milwaukee

In-Site’s “Art on Fond du Lac” Installation

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Since 2006, In-Site has organized and curated temporary public art projects. This spring marks a major step for the organization: a 20-block project featuring nine lead artists, eight installations, dozens of volunteers, a host of opening weekend events and a year-long commission. Dedicated to fostering public art that reflects the unique qualities of a specific place, In-Site presents its most comprehensive and best-received project to date, “Art on Fond du Lac.”

On the southeastern end of the sweep of artworks located between 17th and 37th Streets on Fond du Lac Avenue, we find Annushka Peck’s Johnsons Park installation, Looking to a Place Beyond. A sculptural representation of houses arranged in the shape of the Drinking Gourd Constellation references the park’s rich history as Wisconsin’s first stop on the Underground Railroad, and the site of successful resistance to dislocation during the 1960s when highway construction threatened to destroy much of the neighborhood.

Moving northwest along Fond du Lac, we encounter the first of Chelsea Wait’s paintings from The Color Within Shines Bright, an abstract series on the doors and windows of foreclosed buildings that confronts gender stereotypes by exploring the symbolic narrative of interior and exterior spaces.

To view Paul Peck’s Biopoesis, look upward while visiting Fondy Farmers Market and the Milwaukee Mall to find vine-like sculptures climbing through the rafters, poetically reminding viewers of the interconnectedness of humanity.

Joseph R. Reeves’ Mattiebelle’s Word on the Street centers around quotes from “First Lady of the Black Press” Mattiebelle Woods, presented in enormous letters made of flagging tape and laboriously wrapped into the avenue’s many stretches of chain-link fence. The Milwaukee County Transit System’s garage fence features the phrase: “Do something constructive. Help other people.” Designed to slow down the avenue’s notorious traffic, the phrase also reflects MCTS’s vital role in the community.

George Jones’ The Green Urban Flow Space, inspired by this same quote from Woods, is a year-round urban farming system built of discarded materials and designed to collect rain and solar power, and produce organic produce.

Combining social philosophy and practical advocacy, Robert Byrd and Erin Dorbin’s collaboration centers on the Sherman Park Community Association. Life is Free, a collage mural by Byrd on the outside of the building, references Dorbin's “Exchange Gallery” on the inside, a space for community members to sell art and exchange skills.

The street underneath the railroad viaduct at Locust and Fond du Lac features the roadway mural, A Common Denominator, donated by celebrated Milwaukee artist Reginald Baylor. Although an unexpected rainstorm destroyed much of the work, discussion has begun regarding a wall mural in the same location. Moreover, 40 individuals showed up to help Baylor fill in his stencil—a testament to the outpouring of support for “Art on Fond du Lac.”

Laci Coppins’ Life in Retrospect concludes the tour. Bringing attention to the personal stories and experiences of elderly and differently abled individuals often isolated from the rest of the community, the work features close-ups of Sherman Park Senior Living Center and Curative Care Network residents’ hands.

“Art on Fond du Lac’s” opening weekend events include “Art in the Park,” an art fair at Johnsons Park from 3-6 p.m. on Saturday, June 29; the Neighborhood Art Fair, held at Fondy Farmers Market (and in conjunction with the usual food sales) from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sunday, June 30; and walking tours of the area provided by Sherman Park resident Geoff Grohowski and featuring 16 historic stops (sign up at the In-Site table during opening events, June 29 and 30).

Describing the process of creating such an immense and inclusive public artwork, In-Site project planner Pegi Christiansen notes the fundamental need for “solid time in a community going door to door and talking to multiple partners.” With more than 30 supporting organizations, a diverse core of volunteers and a year’s worth of planning and permitting, “Art on Fond du Lac” is truly a community event, designed to bring positive attention to this vital urban corridor.

For additional information, visit insitemilwaukee.org.

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