If you walk past the abandoned building on 2243 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Drive sometime in the next few weeks you can see that the windows are not covered with boards. They are covered with art.
Painted on the front windows are silhouettes of people with their arms around each other accompanied by the words, “It takes us all to make us all care.” Around the corner, the words “Unite,” “Surpass,” “Transcend,” “Inspire” and “Excel” are painted on the side of the building.
Sponsored by a $2,400 grant from the Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC) to the King Drive Business Improvement (BID), the artwork “Voices for the Community: Visions for Milwaukee” was revealed June 22.
Laci Coppins, a local photographic and mixed media artist, teamed up with 5th and 6th grade students from Our Story Arts, a mentoring program at St. Marcus Lutheran School, for her third temporary art project.
Inspired by the students, Coppins transformed the façade of a vacant property into “positive visions of the future.” Artwork on a second property will be unveiled later next month on 5th Street and North Avenue.
Jerome Knapp, executive director of Historic King Drive Business Improvement District, said focusing on North and Dr. Martin Luther King Drive gave the BID the opportunity to change a false stereotype of the neighborhood.
“There is a perception issue that we fight daily,” Knapp said. “People are conjuring up perceptions of the area that are not true and are 30 years old when the area was a lot more unstable.”
According to Coppins, the artwork was inspired by conversations she had with the students about their vision of Milwaukee. Coppins said most of the ideas were around the topics of education, solidarity and the importance of the roles parents play.
Stephanie Barenz, an artist and founder of Our Story Arts, helped facilitate the group conversations with Coppins and her students. She also encouraged her students to think about their vision of Milwaukee.
“Some kids said, ‘I think forgiveness is important; I think we should learn to forgive each other,’” Barenz said. “Another girl said, ‘I think it’s really important that we tell our parents to cherish each moment with their children, and to really make memories with their kids.’”
Based on the discussions, Coppins chose the ideas and phrases that resonated most with the children to explored further at a community meeting. The ideas that came out of the meeting were selected as the foundation of the art.
“I loved when we were installing (the artwork),” Coppins said. “People were shouting from their cars ‘I like this, I love this, sister this looks great. Folks were walking by and asking what is this? What is this about? Can I help?’”
Although Coppins said she doesn’t live in the Bronzeville community, spreading the message of solidarity and bettering the city is what inspired her to do the project.
“I am a Milwaukeean and I still have a desire and passion for this city. We are better together,” Coppins said. “So I want to see it better and I want to continue to see it grow.”
Barenz said she thinks it’s important for abandoned places to be renewed, and hopes that the artwork can reinforce that idea.
“When you can communicate a message to a community,” Barenz said, “people begin to see it as a starting point, something positive instead of something they looked at as … negative before.”
Coppins noted that her goal for the project is to inspire people to stop and reflect when they see her art. Coppins also hopes to continue the art project all over the city.
“In the end my big hope is that even if it’s just temporarily, this will be a way to lift the neighborhood and to remind us of who we really are,” Coppins said.