Graham Kilmer

Small Grants Help Community Projects

Two neighborhood improvement projects in the city received $1,000 each from AARP.

By - Sep 5th, 2020 01:26 pm
Mural. Image from the Villard Avenue BID.

Mural. Image from the Villard Avenue BID.

Two community projects in Milwaukee were recently awarded grants as part of a statewide program run by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) to provide seed money to small-scale neighborhood improvement efforts.

They’re called Small Dollar, Big Impact grants. AARP has been awarding them every month or so to communities around the state. The grants are for $1,000 each, and AARP’s state director said the idea behind them is that small changes in a community can catalyze long-term progress.

In Milwaukee, these grants landed in the Old North Milwaukee and Martin Drive neighborhoods.

The project in Martin Drive is called the Vliet Street Oasis. It’s a community space farmers market at 3743 W. Vliet St. that seeks to increase access to fresh vegetables and produce in one of the city’s food deserts. The other is a W. Villard Avenue mural project.

The Vliet Street Oasis is the result of local businesses and residents working with the Near West Side Partners (NWSP) and the local business improvement district. The project turned a vacant lot into a space that can serve the local community in a number of ways.

It’s a public space for residents to gather. It offers an area for people to bring take-out from nearby restaurants. And it offers a year-round space for local farmers to sell local produce, which brings fresh produce into a neighborhood that lacks groceries.

Keith Stanley, executive director of NWSP said the grant from AARP will build on the work local stakeholders already put in. The oasis “beautifies the neighborhood,” he said, and adapts to COVID-19 protocols and “provides convenient access to fresh, seasonal foods.”

The $1,000 grant in Old North Milwaukee will help fund a mural project along Historic Villard Avenue being organized by the Villard Avenue business improvement district and the Havenwoods Economic Development Corporation. The local arts group, Wallpapered City will create the murals.

It’s called “Visual Vibes on Villard” and when it’s done there will be five murals by local artists meant to “restore neighborhood and community pride,” said Angelique Sharpe, with the local BID and Havenwoods, in a statement.

“This project is unique because it is the first, and largest public art project on the far west side of Milwaukee,” Sharpe said. When the panel judging grant applications came across the project, they also thought it was novel for the way it incorporated environmental messages in the murals, according to the state AARP. One of the murals is designed to be an interactive art piece that can educate the public on environmental degradation.

“There are so many great ideas and proposals for making life better in communities across Wisconsin,” said Darrin Wasniewski, AARP’s state director of community outreach. “We know how impactful $1,000 can be. This is our way of extending some seed money to get these projects off the ground.”

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