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Public art is spreading through the Northwoods as cities create public arts commissions

Antigo Public Art
Danna Gabriel
/
Antigo Visual Arts

Public art is popping up in downtowns across the Northwoods, partly thanks to newly formed public arts commissions, which facilitate interactions between artists and city government.

A walk through Antigo’s downtown looks a bit more colorful these days.

Bottle cap mosaics line the city’s walking trails.

Painted murals adorn old brick buildings.

“We have a beautiful mural that just went up. It actually depicts the historic Langlade County racetrack,” says Danna Gabriel, a local artist and the director of student services with Antigo Visual Arts.

Antigo Public Art
Danna Gabriel
/
Antigo Visual Arts

Public art like this is popping up in downtowns across the Northwoods, partly thanks to newly formed public arts commissions, which facilitate interactions between artists and city government.

In Antigo, the city is on board because public art has proven benefits. Art is good for economic development, it can limit vandalism in a city and it gives people a sense of belongingness.

“The ultimate idea behind this is belongingness, which means bringing everyone together in the community,” Gabriel says.

Antigo Public Art
Danna Gabriel

Antigo’s latest project embodies this idea. An artist is working with students from every school in the city to create a mosaic mural, assembled from clay pieces that each student designs.

And Antigo is not the only Northwoods city using art to bring people together.

It’s the idea behind Rhinelander’s newly formed public arts commission too.

“There’s a lot of research out there about creative place making and telling your community’s story, and how that impacts people’s desire to stay in a community or connect deeper with a community,” says Ashley McLaughlin, the program and operations director at ArtStart and the liaison between Rhinelander’s public arts commission and the city.

Rhinelander already has a number of art projects underway, including sidewalk rain art and a mural at Hodag Park.

McLaughlin hopes this is just the beginning of a public arts movement in the Northwoods.

“I think it’s just now starting to trickle up into the Northwoods,” she says. “The education is happening about why our communities should be investing in public art.”

Erin Gottsacker joined WXPR in December 2020. As a Morning Edition host and reporter, Erin reports on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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