How many times have we heard about a place being unsafe or abandoned and wished that we could change it? It may be a place we remember from times when it was full of people, fun and vibrant. Today, people and neighborhoods are taking back those places to create spaces where people gather, children play, and artists create. Sometimes it is a vacant lot full of litter and broken glass that is transformed to a neighborhood pocket park with art, play spaces, and gardens. Sometimes it is events like NEWaukee’s Night Market that transform a downtown area into the place you wanted to be at night. Sometimes it is reinventing the role of a library in a neighborhood. The ripples of change that come from these transformations inspires others to learn, invest, and create. Nationally, this practice is called creative placemaking.
The GMC is nationally recognized as a Midwestern leader in creative placemaking. With the help of two leading national foundations for creative placemaking, ArtPlace America and The Kresge Foundation, we invested in two Creational Trails in Milwaukee. We worked with NEWaukee to test the Night Market concept on West Wisconsin Ave., and continue our work with the Beerline @ Harambee. The GMC has long worked with Sara Daleiden, founder of MKE <-> LAX, on our creative placemaking efforts. We’ve shared the practice of creative placemaking with other key partners in the community including the Milwaukee Public Library. Joan Johnson, Deputy Library Director – Public Services has been engaged in the GMC’s Creative Placemaking Committee and our projects from the beginning.
Milwaukee Public Library is performing important cultural leadership with its Mitchell Street Branch creative placemaking project called “Gathering Art, Stories and Place” with support from a National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant. As a branch of the City of Milwaukee government, the library is embedding both new artists-in-residence and a new Arts Project Coordinator staff position over two years in collaboration with local arts organizations and artists, based in the innovative “Listening to Mitchell” public art project. This investment will encourage civic engagement through the arts that celebrates the beautiful range of cultures in the neighborhood.” – Sara Daleiden
The Milwaukee Public Library recently opened its newest and most technologically advanced branch library on one of the most dynamic blocks in the city: Historic Mitchell Street. This catalytic project, in partnership with Gorman & Company, Inc., included a top-to-bottom renovation of the historic 97-year old former Hills Department Store building, converting an underutilized building into 60 apartments and a brand new library. The Mitchell Street Branch is a unique hub for creative expression and cultural discourse and will empower neighbors to create, share, and celebrate cultural diversity through storytelling and art. Joan Johnson and City Librarian Paula Kiely reached out early in the development of the library project to the GMC and Sara Daleiden to partner in utilizing creative placemaking to gain local residents’ input and national foundation support. The community input helped the library decide to create a neighborhood digital maker space within the new renovation and the successful award of a grant of $150,000 from the National Endowment of the Art (NEA) to fund a project called the “Gathering Art, Stories and Place”.
The project leverages the library’s maker space and other indoor and outdoor gathering spaces to host a variety of storytelling-themed programs, an artist lecture series, writing workshops, a new archive of collected neighborhood stories, and two artist-in-residence programs. Free art education and cultural enrichment activities through a mobile art workshop will be available to young people.
This space is the future of the Milwaukee Public Library and the community. From hosting community events, artist in residence, and a teen connected learning program, the Mitchell Street Library, the fourth of many Library redevelopments, is an example of how the GMC’s work, alongside Daleiden’s, is reshaping how our city thinks about development and placemaking.
Creative placemaking is driving how we engage artists in the development of our city, both physically and socially. The Mitchell Street Library is a prime example of how creative placemaking work attracts new developments, creates jobs, and bolsters our economy through art and neighborhood engagement.