Mural in Fort Atkinson

Murals by the community, for the community

"We can’t really put a price on the kind of on-going impact this will have on our region." - Ann Engelman, the Lorine Niedecker Poetry Wall in Fort Atkinson


Maybe there is a mural in your neighborhood or town that adds color to the landscape. Maybe photos of the mural have even been shared on social media. People slow down to check it out. It sparks conversation. Do you know the story of how the mural ended up on that wall, and who made it?

This week Connie and Tim were featured on Love Wisconsin. They are artists who have been sharing their talents and strengthening community in the town of Waubeno for years. They work with groups -- students, inmates, retirement communities -- on mural projects that are joyful, meaningful, and result in deeper human connection. Connie and Tim shared how they met (online!), what they love about small-town life, and what drives their ongoing and ever-evolving creative collaborations. And the photos of them on the Love Wisconsin Facebook feed are simply delightful!

As grant-makers, we have heard other stories of how making murals can bring people together to discover new things about themselves and the place they live. For example, a mural on Milwaukee's south side was spearheaded by artist Raoul Deal, a senior lecturer at UW-Milwaukee’s Department of Art and Design at the Peck School of the Arts.

Deal led his students in researching the history of UMOS, an organization that has had a huge impact in Milwaukee for over 50 years.  They interviewed some of the visionaries who helped to establish UMOS as an innovative nonprofit that serves the Latino community in Wisconsin. These leaders and students connected over UMOS's role in the national fight for migrant rights and against discrimination, a fight that continues today.

“This mural not only connects the agricultural movement to that of immigrant workers demanding jobs at foundries and breweries, but it also demonstrates how history applies to current events and ongoing struggles for equality,” Deal explained. The 90-foot mural on the side of the Butters-Fetting building will continue to honor this history for many years to come.

Another project that received Wisconsin Humanities funding is the poetry wall in downtown Fort Atkinson. The wall (pictured above) features a portion of a poem by Lorine Neidecker, a local poet who died in 1970. The largest Lorine Niedecker collection is owned and held by the Dwight Foster Public Library and the Hoard Historical Museum, where there is a permanent exhibit on the second floor about Lorine's life. However, her work has not been fully appreciated in her hometown until recently.

A group of friends and fans of Lorine's started working together in the 1980s, forming an official Friends group in 1991. The group wanted Fort Atkinson residents to have the chance to get to know and appreciate Lorine's work the way they did. The assistant director of the library, Amy Lutzke, was one of the founding members. She said in an interview about the project, "We needed to put her in front of our community so that her words could not be missed. We believe that students who graduate from the Fort Atkinson School District should be familiar with Lorine and her words."

A Wisconsin Humanities grant helped the group hire artist Jeremy Pinc. Pinc was an energic force and used the public nature of mural painting to bring people into the creative process. The poem that was selected for the downtown mural celebrates place. As he was painting, people stopped by to chat and Pinc welcomed the conversations. He used the poem as an invitation to engage with people in reflections about Fort Atkinson and a sense of belonging.

There are so many more examples, and so many more to be realized. If you have an idea, check out our grant program. We fund creative endeavors, grounded in listening and humility, that spark curiosity and dialogue. Every year we give away $200,000 in grants to support humanities projects designed by communities.

And don't forget to read Connie and Tim's story on Love Wisconsin!


Connie and Tim Love Wisconsin storytellers


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