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The Alley Project: From Blank Canvas to Revitalized Arts Space

Michael Gillespie plays in the alley while the ARTiculture Community Supported Arts Drawing Rally gets underway.

Michael Gillespie plays in the alley while the ARTiculture Community Supported Arts Drawing Rally gets underway.

It ended like this, but it began like this:

The blank wall to the right belongs to The History Museum at the Castle's building, while the wall to the left and the alley are vacant and underused.

The blank wall to the right belongs to The History Museum at the Castle's building, while the wall to the left and the alley are vacant and underused.

(Scroll down for images from beginning to opening!)

In a small marvel of collaborative planning and time management, The Alley Project in downtown Appleton, Wisconsin was a privilege to be a part of. From the first (and only) real meeting a few months ago, numerous individuals, organizations, sponsors, and donors came together to make this one of the coolest places to be during Mile of Music weekend -- in spite of the weather being uncooperative on one of the two days. But it's not just a temporary event space during the Mile of Music festival; this project was designed to have a long-term impact on downtown Appleton and to pave the way for similar (and more!) projects.

The alley sits at approximately 326 E. College Avenue and belongs to a vacant former bank building currently owned by Lawrence University. The core planning team consists of Nick Hoffman, chief curator at The History Museum at the Castle; Brad Cebulski, owner of BConnected and member of Pulse Young Professionals; Beth Zinsli, director and curator of the Wriston Art Galleries at Lawrence University; and of course, Young Space! The History Museum had a recently refinished wall in need of an artsy facelift, and the alley was an empty space just waiting for someone to do something with it. As Lawrence University had no immediate plans to use the building, they generously allowed us to suspend an installation of bicycle wheels from the roof, display artwork along their wall, and fill the alley with hundreds of people!

One giant piece of the puzzle was the mural, which was crowdfunded via Kickstarter and painted in near enough record time by artist Chad Brady who has completed murals in homes, businesses and public spaces nationally. All the while he was painting, other elements came together: string lights were stretched across the width of the alley, local graffiti muralist Beau Thomas of Trackside Design stopped by to do a temporary panel painting, Northeast Wisconsin artists Stephanie Ramponi, Willow Bayer, Beth Servais, and Justus Poehls included small pieces of original work, Mile of Music scheduled musicians on the stage throughout the weekend, and ARTiculture Community Supported Arts presented a Drawing Rally to raise funds for community arts initiatives here in Appleton (another post forthcoming on the Drawing Rally!).

While much of the installations were temporary, the long-term ideas behind this project were manifold. It's a fantastic space for temporary or pop-up events, but Brady's mural is also the first wall painting in Appleton since the city relaxed its regulations on such paintings. There are still limitations to how much of a wall can be painted, but this is a huge step in showing just what a painting can do for an underutilized space, and how it brings the community together through art and environment! We hope that this event spurs others, and is only the tip of the iceberg where this sort project is concerned. 

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A BIG thanks to all of the artists, musicians, Kickstarter donors, volunteers, partners, and visitors who stopped by while the alley was in progress, when it opened (in the rain!), and during the events. 

And a big shoutout and thanks to our major donors, sponsors, and contributors:

  • The City of Appleton
  • Wisconsin Distributors
  • Jansport
  • BConnected, LLC
  • Appleton Bicycle Shop
  • Sherwin Williams

What's going to happen next?

---Kate

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