Public art can invigorate public spaces and help to engage the community on many levels. It can draw people onto the Trail, create a recognizable identity, and link the landscape to the history, architecture, and social fabric of Milwaukee.
Art can be used to tell our story, honor our history, or explain an environmental concept in a creative and engaging manner. It can create a more inviting space, for what may seem to some, an unfamiliar space.
Over time, several pieces of artwork have been developed specifically for the Hank Aaron State Trail. There are also several interesting pieces within an easy bike ride or walk from the Trail. Please enjoy photos of the artwork on this website, but better yet, see them in person. The Trail will take you There!!
In 2010, artist Chad Brady's concept was selected to embellish the walls of the Valley Passage, the new tunnel linking the Hank Aaron State Trail and the adjacent Silver City neighborhood. Since painting could not be started until fall, the entire mural was not completed until 2011.
The high visibility walls illustrate what can be experienced on the opposite side, and at the same time honor the history of the area and celebrate the nature that will continue to flourish in the newly re-created spaces around the Trail.
A national request for qualifications brought in many applicants, which were pared down to four artists/teams that underwent a vigorous indoctrination and tour of the Trail, Menomonee Valley, and surrounding neighborhoods. Concepts were then developed by the four artists/teams and submitted for selection to the community. Chad Brady's concept was the overwhelming choice.
In 2007, a juried competition selected artist Katie Martin's A Place to Sit to develop an enticing entry and gateway sculpture for the River Loop Trail segment between 13th and 25th and Canal Street. Using a quote from local historian John Gurda who characterized European settlement in Milwaukee as a wild "game of musical chairs" leaving the Indians with "nowhere to sit," Katie offers three high-backed chairs engraved with the names of tribes who made Milwaukee their home.
The gazebo at 32nd Street, designed by artist Peter Flanery as a Millennium Art Project by the Merrill Park Neighborhood, acts as a gateway, rest spot, and information location. Historic elements, such as gears and railroad spikes and track were integrated to artistically enhance the structure.
The incorporation of art glass panels developed by artist Kathryn Lottes honoring native plants and creatures were an additional feature that added beauty and interest to railings in the stormwater park segments of the Trail west of 35th Street.
A piece called Bird Bike, developed by artists Brigit Quinn and Emily Belknap, makes an interesting commentary on the combination of nature and biking along the Trail. The interactive piece was developed as part of a Milwaukee Institute and Design (MIAD) public art class.
Another piece developed during the MIAD class, March On by Katrina Motley, became inspiration for murals that were created the following summer by students from neighboring schools.
Inspired by the 40th Anniversary of civil rights and a particular march across the Sixteenth Street bridge crossing the Menomonee Valley, neighboring schools developed murals for River Loop section of the Trail. The project was not only educational, but inspired efforts by others to further embellish this section of the Trail now known as the River Loop.
Members of the Organization of Chinese Americans - WI chapter and artists with Danceworks, Inc. and the Wisconsin Art Therapy Association led teams of volunteers in stenciling symbols representing peace and unity along the trail to lead trail users to the location of the student murals. In addition, Artists Working in Education, Inc. developed an art project connecting children to the history of the open housing marches along with their own hopes for the future by creating Dream Flags, which depicted the child's dream for him/herself, family and/or community. The art enhanced segment now draws many more users to this section of the Trail.
In areas of higher visibility, professionally developed pieces create gateways that announce the Trail's presence or even direct users to the Trail. In 2006, Nature's Bell was developed as a temporary installation by artist Roy Staab in a key location in the middle of the 25th Street round- about. Fashioned of natural materials, the immense "bell" slowly moved with the breezes and attracted substantial attention from the media and by passers.
In the interest of creating a unique experience for trail users, as well as interesting destinations along the Hank Aaron State Trail, greater attention was given to enhancements that could raise a simple sign, bench, or other infrastructural element to a level of greater interest.
Other elements along the Trail are not purely art, but are more artistically fabricated or designed. A traditional state park sign seemed out of place within the broad spectrum of historic industrial remnants and newly developing modern buildings. Therefore, the sign's design incorporated the red brick and arch of the then new Miller Park stadium. In addition, pictorial elements were added with past and present pictures of the Trail's namesake, including a mural on the back of the sign (viewed from the Trail) of the heroic figure hitting a grand slam.
Greater attention to design and cost also went into the creation of esthetically pleasing and engaging interpretive signs along the Trail. Twelve of the interpretive signs designed by Nancy Aten can be viewed on this website under the heading "Interpretive Signs".