Passersby along the 35th Street corridor near the entrance of Miller Valley now have a new landmark to see at Fats Triangle as Milwaukee nonprofit Near West Side Partners on Thursday unveiled a 12-foot-tall sculpture detailing the neighborhood’s history.
“If it wasn’t for Near West Side Partners we wouldn’t have been here to see this project,” said Alderman Michael J. Murphy during the installation ceremony. “This was a dangerous eyesore, and we are grateful for this unique piece of artwork because it really represents and signifies so many parts of our near west side.”
The Miller Valley marker at the intersection of 35th and State streets is the first of seven neighborhood art projects to be showcased as part of the Neighborhood Marker Project aimed at improving the community thanks to a $1.3 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiative grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Local artists Andre St. Louis and Brandon Minga were commissioned with the task and collaborated to sculpt the tower-like structure that imbues the history of community, spanning from its Native American heritage to present day.
“Before starting the project, our team canvassed the neighborhood because we wanted to know what the people wanted to see,” said St. Louis. “It was very inspiring to hear their input and ideas. It motivated us to take ownership and beautify this space by making it become a place.”
Minga said it was a labor of love to complete the project in the middle of summer.
“You really learn what it’s like to work with metal on a hot summer day when there is a lot of welding, grinding and more grinding to be done,” he said, noting various symbols on the sculpture represent certain stages in Milwaukee’s cultural history.
A couple examples include an an oak leaf marker at the top of the statue in reference to the oak trees that previously lined State Street, and the letter M, an homage to the medallion hung on the Miller tied houses during the Prohibition era.
As part of the project, landscapers also enhanced the surrounding foliage around the statue.
“That was one of the major points in addition to the statue, we really wanted to make this a green space for people to walk around and enjoy nature,” said Near West Side Partners Associate Director Lindsey St. Arnold Bell. “We have already seen people really enjoying this area.”