Public Art in Antigo Aims to Bring Back Business
Like many downtowns in the Northwoods, downtown Antigo has seen better days.
But local artists in the area are trying to bring those days back through public art.
In the middle of Antigo’s historic downtown, buildings constructed in the early 1900s show their age.
Some storefronts sit empty, aside from the lone ‘For Sale’ sign posted in a window.
Other cafes bustle with customers – tables filled with a local, loyal crowd.
On the street of browns and grays and whites, an artist atop a stretched scissor lift paints bright blue.
Brian Ponshock is painting a giant mural on the side of Neve’s Floors to Go Furniture and Mattress Gallery.
The blue spray paint he wields is the backdrop of an American flag that waves behind the head of a bald eagle and into a night sky exploding with fireworks.
“It’s a veteran’s mural for all veterans,” Ponshock explained. “We thought we would honor them with some silhouettes of veterans and then we’ll have some wording on there to say Veterans’ Day is every day.”
Ponshock’s mural is part of a public art movement to revitalize downtown Antigo.
Marie Benes is one of the women spearheading the movement.
Through her husband, who is a local carver, she was introduced to a pool of local painters, sculptors and photographers.
Their work, she thought, too often goes unseen.
“When I see this art, I think oh my gosh, don’t hide!” she said. “It has no language and it has every language – art!”
With the support of other artists, like Danna Gabriel, Benes started applying for grants and permits to make art more visible.
Gabriel uses recycled materials to create colorful projects, like the mosaic rendition of Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night outside the public library and ribbons of red, white and blue bottle caps that hang from the city’s streetlamps.
“I love the recycled art projects,” she said. “It’s super cheap and people can get really creative. And we have artists here who do stuff like that.”
But their goal isn’t just to showcase local talent. It’s to reinvigorate the thriving, busy downtown that Antigo once had.
“Hopefully more people will come down here if we get some paintings down here,” Benes said. “And then also entrepreneurs will want those empty buildings because they’ll know and see people, a lot of people coming down here.”
Already, a landscape of Wisconsin flora and fauna hangs above one storefront.
A high schooler is painting a mural for the inside of a local escape room.
And Antigo Visual Arts just opened a gallery in the city’s visitor center.
All of this is just the start of what Benes and Gabriel envision for a more vibrant downtown Antigo.