The arts are alive in downtown Appleton. In preparation for this weekend’s third annual Mile of Music, a vacant alley on College Avenue has been transformed into a living work of art, a cross between a performance venue and a public art installation. The History Museum at the Castle has teamed up with several organizations and individuals to make this Art Alley — located between the museum and a building owned by Lawrence University — a reality.
“We participated in Mile of Music in the past as a music education site and with drum performances on our front lawn,” explains Chief Curator Nick Hoffman. “We really wanted to take it to the next level this year. We wanted to make a really big splash.”
The Art Alley’s centerpiece is a large mural whose aim is to capture the unique essence of the downtown area, beautifying the semi-urban space while also promoting the museum’s upcoming exhibit, “Shifting Gears: A Cyclical History of Badger Cycling.” Appleton-based artist Chad Brady has been painting the mural in the days leading up to Mile of Music from a lift that allows him access to the full height of the alley wall.
“Chad’s a well-known artist on a national level,” says Hoffman. “He does projects all over the United States. Reaching out to him was the natural thing to do. He came to us as soon as we mentioned we were doing this with a really great idea for the overall design. It connects downtown Appleton with the riverfront, and we also have a cycling exhibit coming up. He was able to take all those pieces — the Fox River, pelicans, which have been re-associated with the Fox River, and a fox riding a bicycle — and combine it into something really great.”
Other themed elements will adorn the alley this weekend, including hanging sculptural pieces with recycled bike parts, a gateway with moving bike parts by Dean Wolf of Kaukauna, a smaller spray painted mural by Bo Thomas of Green Bay and numerous other artworks on display. Beer, food trucks and social seating will be available in the alley on Friday and Saturday in conjunction with live music and art.
From 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Saturday there will be a live art event called, a “drawing rally.” “There are about two dozen artists and some selected community members that are all doing live drawings,” explains Kate Mothes of Young Space, a partnering organization on the Alley Project. “They each get half an hour to do a small selection of drawings. All the drawings go up for sale immediately for $20, and all the proceeds will support public art and creative initiatives in Appleton.” The drawing rally will be presented by an organization called ARTiculture, whose focus is community-supported arts.
Brady’s mural will be up for at least two years, making the image a lasting, visible presence on College Avenue. “It’s going to be a long-term part of the downtown landscape,” says Hoffman. “Art Alley itself is only this weekend. The mural will stay.”
According to Hoffman, the goal of the Art Alley is largely to get the community involved in Mile of Music. “Over 62 individuals made contributions to make this happen,” he says. “Local artists and community members have come together to make this a truly community-owned space.”
The construction of the alley was viewed by passersby and interested community members the past few days, and now the completed creation can be enjoyed by the hundreds of festivalgoers at 2015’s Mile of Music.