Story of Bronzeville’s past, present & future to be told through artwork featured at ThriveOn King

Artists with Milwaukee ties chosen in community-centered process

Milwaukee, Jan. 9, 2024 – Over 20 acclaimed and home-grown artists will bring the history and heritage of Bronzeville to life throughout the first floor of ThriveOn King, the new community hub being developed on North Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Royal Capital.

Residents have emphasized art’s importance to the culture and community narrative of Milwaukee’s Halyard Park, Harambee and Brewers Hill neighborhoods since the formation of the ThriveOn Collaboration four years ago and have helped lead plans to ensure its meaningful integration into the place-based initiative. From tile to embroidery, painting to sculpture, the art of ThriveOn King will vary in size, medium and placement, but collectively, the works will immerse guests in the legacy, vibrancy and potential of Milwaukee’s Black community.

“Enthusiasm for incorporating arts and culture into the building has been high among residents from the very beginning, and we have been listening,” said Darlene C. Russell, director of community engagement for the Foundation. “We are excited to be able to start showing the community how their perspective is being honored and their ideas are being represented in a tangible way.”

Defining art as a priority, determining the values and stories that should be reflected through art, and then identifying artists and artwork for the building’s community spaces are all part of an intentionally inclusive process that centers resident voices and features shared decision-making.

The process

Early community visioning throughout 2019 shaped the priorities of the collaboration as a whole and set the stage for art to have a prominent place in the work that emerged. This was reinforced as relationships among collaboration partners and community were built through years of neighborhood meetings, one-on-one interviews, office hours, meet-and-greet gatherings, community events and more.

Art began taking center stage in 2022 as the collaboration held a series of three intensive arts visioning sessions for residents in the fall, followed by an information session specifically for artists. The resulting insight informed a truly unique “call for art” issued in early 2023 seeking engagement specifically with artists who have strong Milwaukee ties and understanding of the Bronzeville community fabric. 

An art review committee of talented community members was assembled to partner with the collaboration’s art project team to assess the many proposals received. They ultimately selected more than 20 finalists who will either contribute existing works or create new, custom installations for ThriveOn King.

“It was very important that our process for selecting the art was carefully attentive to the rich history of the community,” said Staci Young, PhD, senior associate dean for community engagement at the MCW School of Medicine. Dr. Young is also director of MCW’s Center for Healthy Communities and Research, and associate director of community outreach and engagement for the MCW Cancer Center. “We took the time to thoroughly discuss the submissions, recognizing that artists put considerable effort into their work. We wanted the results to showcase their gifts and talents for the community's benefit.”

Keeping with the ThriveOn Collaboration’s inclusive approach, the art initiative is supported by aligning partner resources, Foundation grantmaking and the generosity of many donors who share an interest in art and its power to communicate important community narratives.

The narrative

Neighborhood residents and stakeholders have expressed a desire for art that is welcoming, representative and imbues a sense of discovery in the gathering spaces that will define the ThriveOn King experience. The chosen art will convey a cohesive narrative arc reflecting the values and priorities of the community:

  • Respecting and preserving the culture and history of Bronzeville
  • Honoring the vitality and community connections present today
  • Celebrating youth and the promise of a thriving future

These connected themes will provide the canvas for essential community stories – from seminal eras like the migration of Black families and the city’s jazz boom, to the iconic places that defined Bronzeville to the generations of people who embody the neighborhoods’ spirit, including local legends, students and children.

“Anyone who enters ThriveOn King is going to feel an immediate sense of belonging, because the art selected through this process truly represents what matters most to the community,” said Sande Robinson, ThriveOn Art Review Committee member. “The caliber of participating artists also makes this effort incredibly special. Having the works of so many respected and accomplished creative minds all in one place, contributing to one collective story is extraordinary.”

The artists

Work from the following renowned and rising artists will be integrated into the first floor of ThriveOn King:*

  • Bolanle Awosika
  • Reginald Baylor Studio
  • Brad Anthony Bernard
  • Fondè Bridges
  • Olivia (LIV) Burks
  • Nehemiah Edwards
  • Reynaldo Hernandez & Rozalia Singh
  • Vedale Hill
  • Kristine Hinrichs
  • Deva Houston
  • Mutòpe J. Johnson
  • John Kowalczyk
  • La Familia de Arte
  • Mene Muhammad (RazitoZulu)
  • Ras ‘Ammar Nsoroma & Adjua Nsoroma
  • Rosy Petri
  • Isaic Pulliam
  • Evelyn Patricia Terry
  • Rakim Wil

* Specific works – both existing and commissioned – will be previewed at a later date. Creation of new artwork continues this winter for installation early this year. Project partners Greenwood Park Art Gallery and Guardian Fine Art Services will work closely with the ThriveOn Collaboration on the preparation and installation of the art within the ThriveOn King community space.  

The context

The ThriveOn Collaboration of the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, the Medical College of Wisconsin and Royal Capital is committed to making generational investments throughout Milwaukee’s Bronzeville community and beyond, aimed at eliminating health, economic and social disparities perpetuated by systemic racism and disinvestment.

The centerpiece of this community-centered collaboration is the restoration and redevelopment of the former Gimbels-Schuster’s department store at 2153 N. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. In its new life as ThriveOn King, the site will include community, commercial and residential spaces that offer new resources and opportunity to the neighborhood.

When complete, the site will be home to the Foundation’s offices and numerous MCW centers and institutes. The first floor will house a Malaika Early Learning Center campus, JobsWork MKE and Versiti Blood Center of Wisconsin programs in addition to community gathering spaces, healthy food and wellness offerings. The development will also include approximately 90 units of mixed-income housing for families, seniors and students.

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About the Greater Milwaukee Foundation

The Greater Milwaukee Foundation is Wisconsin’s largest community foundation and was among the first established in the world. For more than a century, the Foundation has been at the heart of the civic community, helping donors achieve the greatest philanthropic impact, elevating the work of changemakers across neighborhoods, and bringing people and organizations together to help our region thrive. Racial equity is the Foundation’s North Star, guiding its investments and strategies for social and economic change. Leveraging generations of community knowledge, cross-sector partnerships and more than $1 billion in financial assets, the Foundation is committed to reimagining philanthropy, recentering communities and remaking systems to transform our region into a Milwaukee for all.

About the Medical College of Wisconsin

With a history dating back to 1893, the Medical College of Wisconsin is dedicated to leadership and excellence in education, patient care, research and community engagement. More than 1,400 students are enrolled in MCW’s medical school and graduate school programs in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Central Wisconsin. MCW’s School of Pharmacy opened in 2017. A major national research center, MCW is the largest research institution in the Milwaukee metro area and second largest in Wisconsin. In the last ten years, faculty received more than $1.5 billion in external support for research, teaching, training and related purposes. This total includes highly competitive research and training awards from the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Annually, MCW faculty direct or collaborate on more than 3,100 research studies, including clinical trials. Additionally, more than 1,600 physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants, provide care in virtually every specialty of medicine for more than 2.8 million patients annually.

About Royal Capital

At Royal Capital, having the opportunity to serve its communities in such an intimate and catalytic manner, is a privilege that it carries with high appreciation. From housing, retail, philanthropy, and community services, the people of Royal Capital are grateful for the opportunity to provide quality experiences that stretch beyond bricks and mortar. With a disciplined strategy and intentional execution, its efforts have led to the development of quality sustainable communities, while achieving the double bottom line for its investors and partners. The employees of Royal Capital are proud to be considered leaders in urban development, and we maintain our excitement to build, create, and be afforded the opportunity to “color outside the box.”

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