The Fox Cities is a hub for artists of all types. This is evident by the number of sculptures, murals and art fountains found throughout the area. Public art is a catalyst for creating a vibrant community and these pieces woven throughout the area contribute to the community’s burgeoning art scene. As the Fox Cities’ approach to public art continues to evolve, here are just a few art landmarks that contribute to making our landscape more colorful and eclectic.
Good Morning, Little Chute
The “Good Morning, Little Chute” mural, painted by Oshkosh artist Leif Larson during the summer 2018 Bazaar After Dark festival, graces the side of S and S Trading Co. in its namesake village. The mural captures the essence of a small, tight-knit community. Since graduating from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh in 2005, Larson has been creating, showing and selling his art work across the United States, but credits much of his artistic growth to the network of creators he found through The Draw. The art hub provides office spaces for creative entrepreneurs to rent, a gallery for artists to showcase work and for the community to experience art through shows and events.
Larson also attributes his success and passion for art through his involvement with other art organizations. “I’ve enjoyed working with Emerging Artists and The Trout Museum of Art,” he says. “I’ve been working a lot more and people have been watching.”
His perspective on art in communities such as Appleton is that it helps expand people’s world-views and perspectives and contributes to an increased quality of life.
“Art is something that gives a community a chance to see that there is more to life than just the basic needs to survive,” Larson says. “They can do more with their life. Art reminds them of that.”
Limited resources are always a concern for artists. Artists need space to create work and audiences to support that work. John Adams, curator of The Draw, describes the space as “ever-evolving.” Despite some advancements in the local art scene, Adams says financial support is critical to growing and supporting local art.
“It’s great for people to support [art], but we need to find a way monetarily to support local arts by purchasing art and putting money towards public art,” he says. “If artists can’t make money, they can’t do what they’re doing.”
Appleton Mandala Project
Tony Conrad is the artist behind the Appleton Mandala Project, a public art project that aims to evoke a sense of peace and community. Conrad, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at Lawrence University, was inspired to begin this project in 2015 in hopes of creating something visually engaging that also facilitates conversations about art and creativity.
“Art in this city brings people together who value creative expression. It is here that valuable conversations and relationships are nurtured,” he says.
Conrad worked with Appleton Downtown, Inc. to install five of his 48-inch painted mandalas on the parking ramp at the corner of S. Appleton Street and W. Lawrence, across the street from Houdini Plaza. Typically radial in design, mandalas are Buddhist and Hindi symbols of the universe and were historically used in Buddhism to establish a sacred space of meditation and prayer.
Financial support, community patronage and adequate work space are all vital components of a developing art community. Conrad feels that public art contributes to a more vibrant dynamic, but broader conversations are required to unify the community and its approach to public art.
“We continue to see resistance from parts of this community in regard to public art. Public art is all about accessibility – to make art visible for all people,” he says. “In order to be a leader in the arts, we need to get citizens, officials and institutions together to find ways to support art projects financially and to create a dialogue about how art can be the fabric that ties this community together with tolerance and compassion.”
Renee Ulman, chair of the City of Appleton’s Public Arts Committee, supports increasing the accessibility of art. Ulman has been an art educator in the area for over 20 years before taking on her current role as arts director for the Appleton Area School District alongside her position within the committee.
The role of the Appleton Public Arts Committee, which was formed in 2018, is primarily to be a source of reference between arts organizations and the City. They assist in advising other committees in the process of choosing, approving and advocating for the arts in the community. Part of their mission is to make art more prevalent in the community.
“The main goal is to increase public awareness, appreciation and contribution of public art,” Ulman says. “We want to foster artistic creativity in the community.”
Make It Rain
Multidisciplinary artist Ryan Lamfers created the “Make it Rain” sculpture, which was originally placed in front of the former Brin Theatre site in Menasha. The 10-foot cast iron and steel sculpture was created to represent change and impermanence and was originally placed in Menasha to represent the changes the city has undergone in the past several years. It is currently in the process of being relocated to the southeast corner of the County Road CB and Highway 10 overpass, on the private property of Miron Construction.
“Make It Rain” is part of Sculpture Valley’s ACREofART initiative, the Valley’s first outdoor public sculpture exhibition now in its third year. Sculpture Valley, an arts advocacy nonprofit, was established in 2011 and works to establish the Fox Valley as a nationally-recognized arts and culture destination. Sculpture Valley has worked with local municipalities to refurbish existing sculptures and monuments and place new ones. Its ACREofARTexhibition is funded by area businesses and individual sponsors and installs public art pieces on two-year leases.
“We currently have 22 works in the show, though a couple are still in transition to new sites,” says Executive Director Alex Schultz.
One sculpture in particular that is part of the exhibition, “The Collective” by artist Paul Bobrowitz, has drawn some controversy. The sculpture is made from repurposed propane tanks that have been assembled into a head-shaped sculpture. It was created to represent the artist’s collective influences and thoughts that make up who he is and who we are – all the voices in our heads.
There have been differing views on the sculpture off the East College Avenue bridge. Some have found the sculpture to be different, provoking and fun. Others, however, have been put off by the sculpture, calling it scary and ugly.
“We understood that the piece might be a little challenging since it represents ‘Outsider’ and ‘Found Art’, a class of artworks not commonly displayed in public. We didn’t anticipate this level of vehement opposition to this piece,” Schultz says. “The public locations available to host a work of this scale put serious limitations on placement options and this site seemed a perfect location with high traffic visibility and pedestrian access.”
According to Ulman, the primary issue was the lack of notification the neighbors received regarding the placement of the statue. The City’s notification policy has since been revised to avoid the issue in the future. Ulman says since the sculpture is being moved from its current location, that space will not be filled with a different piece of work. She says replacing the sculpture would invalidate the piece that currently stands there and could lead to further controversy in the future.
Lamfers believes some controversy can actually be a positive part of the conversation around art and recognizes that the public has expressed mixed reactions to his own work at times.
“People talk about what they think art is,” Lamfers says. “The conversations surrounding ‘The Collective’ are interesting, and people will grow to have a better perspective. People are being exposed to new and different things, which is positive.”
Public Art Scavenger Hunt
It’s cold and dreary out now, but spring will be here before we know it. Spring is the perfect time to treat the Fox Cities like one giant outdoor museum. Schultz suggests downloading the Otoeast app which will guide you on an ACREofART audio tour. In addition, below are a few more public art points of interest to add to your itinerary.
240 E Wisconsin Ave, Neenah
Sculpture by Lyman Whitaker
106 E Main St, Little Chute
Mural by Ally Wilber
Playing in the Rain
500 E Wisconsin Ave, Neenah
Sculpture/fountain by Dallas Anderson
Tick Tock Tapestry
139 E. Second Street, Kaukauna
Mural by Elyse-Krista Mische
Traffic Control Boxes
Designs created by area middle and high school students
Original poetry by Appleton residents
Map for traffic control boxes and sidewalk poetry locations available at appletondowntown.org