donna fischer | the artist next door | sept. 2018
How do you experience an urban setting? Are you attracted to colorful areas more than bland spots? Can art influence your willingness to visit or remain in a given place? The city of De Pere is investing significantly in the notion that yes, art does influence the public in a positive way. Last year the city gave $100,000 from the Excess Stadium Tax to Definitely De Pere for a public art program. A portion of that has been directed toward murals in the city's downtown areas. With five murals in production so far this year, De Pere is taking a sure step toward becoming an even more attractive and interesting destination.
For Tina Quigley, executive director of Definitely De Pere, bringing murals to De Pere makes sense on many levels.
“The value of public art is well documented; public art adds meaning and uniqueness to a city," she explains. “Incorporating art in public places strengthens private development efforts by attracting more investment. It has economic benefits such as increased ability to recruit a high quality workforce."
The next crucial step after the funds were allocated involved finding the right art for the walls. Quigley says that 32 artists submitted a total of 70 concepts for mural art. The committee of seven had to make some tough decisions in narrowing down this batch to five top picks. Owners of each of the properties then had final approval.
The city of De Pere has a rich history with countless stories yet to be told. The murals promise to give artists a way to draw the public in to such stories.
“We purposefully kept the design criteria broad and open," says Quigley. “Artists were told that murals could be vintage or contemporary, and should reflect the people, culture and spirit of downtown De Pere. The goal of the project is to create public art that conveys a piece of the story of De Pere's history while reflecting a connection to the current vibe of the city or a vision for the future."
Mural artist James Barany embraced the idea of conveying a timeline of De Pere history. With his expansive and energetic mural along James Street, he endeavored to draw viewers in with images of working men and women from 1850 to 1950. While he used reference photos, Barany also borrowed heavily from family and friends when it came to the faces of his historical figures.
Quigley is confident that the murals will become part of the city's personality.
“Definitely De Pere is dedicated to revitalizing downtown De Pere by creating art throughout the district and to making art central to the daily life of the community. The selected murals will serve as a community celebration for years to come.
De Pere's future as a destination for artists and art lovers seems promising. Quigley says the proposed Mulva Center, an approved Cultural District Master Plan and three new galleries prove that the city is serious about becoming a cultural center for the region.
“We have already seen an organic interest and growth in the arts in downtown De Pere. This year three galleries have opened: artlessBastard, Blue Door Artworks and Inspire Gallery. Our downtown Art Walk events on July 20 and August 10 drew more people this year than previous years as we highlighted the murals and featured the artists at the evens. We have already seen increased foot traffic by the murals and photographs being taken, both personal and professional."
But there are more opportunities for artists on the horizon. If you are looking to get in on the mural fun, you may wish to respond to Definitely De Pere's call for artists for the two to three additional walls to be completed this fall. Visit DefinitelyDePere.org for details.
Beyond murals, De Pere will soon boast a major downtown sculpture installation and there are plans to incorporate sidewalk sculpture within an overall streetscape plan for downtown De Pere that will be implemented in the spring of 2019. Quigley explains that the future of public art is dependent on financial support and that their committee is working on a fundraising project to keep the program going through grants and the generosity of donors.
Donna Fischer is an avid fan of music, film and art. When she's not writing on these subjects you'll find her gardening or snowshoeing around Green Bay.