Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

New Water Trail Guides The Way in Walker’s Point

Painted trail is the first phase of project designed to link water-related amenities.

By - Oct 2nd, 2020 08:58 am
Water Current Walking Tour marker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Water Current Walking Tour marker. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The first phase of a new trail linking up water-based attractions in Walker’s Point has been installed.

Part of the city’s Water Centric City initiative, the new Water Current Walking Tour links the end of the riverwalk in the Historic Third Ward to Harbor View Plaza and the UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences. Much of the trail runs via S. 2nd St. in Walker’s Point. It includes jaunts to the Global Water Center via W. Freshwater Way and Paliafito Eco-Arts Park via W. Walker St.

Artist Marina Lee painted 26 water-droplet-themed mandalas on city streets and a number of linking footprints. The vision from the city’s Environmental Collaboration Office and non-profit Arts @ Large was to engage students in painting the trail in advance of the Democratic National Convention, guiding the way for tourists and locals to experience the growing water-focused amenities in Walker’s Point and building fundraising support for future phases.

“Then COVID happened, and during the shutdown it made it very difficult to work with the students and community on that process,” said Arts @ Large interim CEO Sean Kiebzak in an interview. “We moved forward with the process with Marina in full [personal protective equipment].”

Kiebzak is happy with how Lee’s work turned out. “It was a beautiful way to do something both functional and artistic,” he said. “Obviously we were disappointed that the DNC wasn’t here in the City of Milwaukee so we couldn’t bring more attention to that.”

Lee went spot-by-spot using a stencil to create the mandalas, hand painting any variations. A large mandala was added to the Eco-Arts Park. Arts @ Large staff members and others pitched in to help. Kiebzak said one of the days Lee was working in early June hundreds of racial equity protesters marched by headed north towards Downtown. He said he hopes Arts @ Large can play a role in helping the city move forward. “We are using the platform of arts-based experiences to help the city heal,” he said.

Milwaukee environmental sustainability director Erick Shambarger said the mandalas will soon be augmented by 10 wayfinding signs that will give context to the markers on the ground. “We think the combination of stenciling and wayfinding signage provides a great foundation for the project,” said Shambarger via email. He said fundraising for future phases is currently on hold as a result of the pandemic.

The tour is just over 1.5 miles long.

A one-day design workshop generated a series of ideas, including water-themed art used to screen parking lots and window film displays, that could be affordably implemented. Far more ambitious ideas from participants included a beach along the Milwaukee River and an artistic lighting projection on the Rockwell Automation headquarters.

The tour complements Mary Miss‘ WaterMarks project underway in the area as well as efforts by the Harbor District to improve access to the waterfront and a new riverwalk extension planned along the harbor and Kinnickinnic River.

Arts @ Large currently offers free virtual programming. “Every other Friday we do an art bag distribution that is free to the community,” said Kiebzak. Then, the following Saturday, a Facebook Live video provides instruction. “Like everyone else, we are trying to find ways to pivot.” The organization’s cafe, located on the first-floor of its new home in a redeveloped building at 1100 S. 5th St., remains open just southwest of the tour route.


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