Vacant lots, run down street corners and the depressing knowledge that things can’t get better, at least economically, because there is no industry to make it better … those are images from all over the city of Milwaukee.
For years, that imagery has permeated every aspect of Milwaukee life. Government and Municipal funding wasn’t put into areas that were depressed. Interstates and highways were built running through what used to be vibrant neighborhoods housing people of color.
Residents of Milwaukee in many different areas have long lamented how those areas physically look. Recently, however, there has been a push to revitalize Milwaukee one area at a time.
It was with this in mind that Forward Community Investments awarded the monthly Game Changer grant to the Fondy Park Public Art Project, to be used to build Fondy Park in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood of North Milwaukee. The Game Changer program gives a $3,000 grant each month to an organization or group of individuals working for racial equity in a Wisconsin community, using only a short video and form as the application.
Fondy Park will feature the artistry and innovation of Evelyn Terry, an award-winning artist who has been honored by the Milwaukee Arts Board and contributed to hundreds of corporate art collections.
The location of the new park will be a large vacant lot right next to the Fondy Market.
“We have been working on this for well over a year,” said Dr. Michael Carrere. “Lindsay Heights was chosen because it was a portion of the city hit hard by disinvestment and, honestly, because there was space. That lot was vacant for over 20 years. We wanted to take a site that was abandoned and make it a place of life.”
The idea is that the park will reside next to Fondy Market and that people will buy things at the market, bring them to the park, and make it an enjoyable space. The art that will be in the park hasn’t been decided upon yet.
“One of the things we’re trying to do is make the decision of Art as community-based as possible,” Dr. Carrere said. “We’ve been thinking about how to get art into the park and do it organically instead of having someone come in and build something. We want the community to plug into the art so they’re invested. There’s possibilities of having sculptures or murals. We’re trying to finalize what those would be.”
Dr. Carrere says over the weekend a stage and seating were installed in the space, so that concerts or dance performances could take place in the park. He also says the park will employ a sophisticated system of draining street water and using it to help make the park one of the greenest in the country.
“It first and foremost is a functional green space in an area where public parks are few and far between,” Carrere said. “There’s technology in the park that they haven’t got in parks anywhere else. We have underground cisterns, a reverse water system where street water is diverted to the park. It’s the first time they’ve engineered that in an urban area in the United States.”
Dr. Carrere says Forward Community Investments gave the grant after sitting down with Evelyn Terry and Sharon Adams, who runs Walnut Way, an organization dedicated to exactly this type of urban renewal. It was their stories about the community and the area that carried the day.
“We sat down with two of the important partners from the neighborhood, Evelyn Terry and Sharon Adams,” Dr. Carrere said. “We saw what they wanted from the process. It was something already on their minds. It was their stories and words that really made the project.”