Stand facing south at the intersection of North Milwaukee and East Wells streets and the words “VOTING RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS” are visible in block letters, peaking over a sea of Cream City brick.
With the northern wall of the Colby Abbot building as his canvas, Shepard Fairey used hues of blue, red and yellow to frame his message against the skyline’s neutral backdrop.
The internationally acclaimed street artist, best known for his 2008 Barack Obama “Hope” poster, collaborated with five Wisconsin artists to install the 7,400-square-foot, three-story mural last month, in anticipation of this year’s presidential election. The work’s central image of a Black man is based on a photograph famously captured during a Civil Rights march in the 1960s.
“It sends an inclusive message for Milwaukee: You can feel comfortable, you can feel welcome in our city, everyone from every walk of life,” said Patti Keating Kahn, owner of the Colby Abbot building and nearby Railway Exchange building.
Keating Kahn considers the privately funded project a value enhancer for the building, which has been under restoration since suffering a major fire in June. She said the mural joins the likes of the Milwaukee Art Museum building and the Hoan Bridge lights as creative icons that stand to draw both locals and visitors downtown, even in the midst of a pandemic.