The Story Behind Milwaukee’s New Murals

Perched in a lift nine stories above the foundation of the P.H. Dye House in the Third Ward, the internationally acclaimed German artist Case Maclaim looks completely relaxed. He dips his brush into a bucket of paint as casually as commuters far below him might dip doughnuts into their morning coffee.

Stacey Williams-Ng stands near a mural by Nova Czarnecki as part of the Street Canvas project in Bay View. Photo courtesy of Erin Bloodgood.

Maclaim, whose given name is Andreas Von Chrzanowski, had planned to spend the week painting in Moscow before jetting to Sicily, then to Paris and Mexico City for work. But after hearing from Stacey WilliamsNg, he chose to devote his talents to Milwaukee instead.

Williams-Ng, an acclaimed muralist in her own right, has gotten pretty good at brokering deals between artists like Maclaim and city officials. In recent years, she’s helped realize dozens of largescale public art projects through her creative agency, Wallpapered City.

In 2016, after spending two years convincing East Siders that street art wasn’t synonymous with graffiti, she created Black Cat Alley. In 2017, she invited five female artists, most of whom had never worked on a muralsized project before, to paint buildings along Kinnickinnic Avenue in Bay View. And earlier this year, she was instrumental in transforming a stretch of North Avenue in East Tosa into an arts district dotted with seven freshly painted murals.

In the process, she’s driven more tourists to that area of the city – Black Cat Alley is now one of Milwaukee’s most visited attractions. And she’s drawn more attention to local artists. WilliamsNg compares the city’s street art scene to a “newborn baby” that’s “growing really, really fast.” And she believes that it will continue to grow in the months and years to come. “I really have my eye on the Harbor District,” she says. “It’s beautifully placed to be an arts district. It’s right next to Summerfest. It’s right next to our arts college. It’s got bike paths. It’s got the lakefront. There’s so much potential there.”

In the meantime, she continues to reach out to artists like Maclaim whenever opportunities arise, making Milwaukee a little more colorful one wall at a time.