Graffiti taking the streets of Monona

November 15, 2019

Many of you Lancers have probably seen the graffiti murals covering the sides of buildings along Monona Drive and Cottage Grove Road on your way to school. This street art adds a splash of color and design to what are normally grim-colored streets. Murals are currently covering anything from coffee shops to offices, auto-shops to salons. One was even displayed on a visible elevator shaft where apartment buildings are still being built on Cottage Grove Road.

“They are really beautiful. When I walk by them, I can feel a positive energy. I am a big fan of graffiti art. I am a rapper so anything creative is awesome to me. With music you have one thought and it can take you anywhere, just like with graffiti. You have one thought and you can make your own story,” TJ Strickland (9) said. Street art like this is something we don’t see a lot of in the Midwest, which is why it has caught so many people’s attention. “It brings happiness and brightens everything up. It is a great reminder of how diverse and cool our community is,” Molly Peden (12) said.

All of this began on August 24th, 2019 when the first Momentum Urban Arts Fest took place. Murals were painted from morning to night by 80-100 artists from all over the country. Many artists were locals, and others came from as far as L.A., Miami, New York, and Denver to participate. The public could follow a map to see all of the artists actively putting paint on the walls at a total of 27 different locations. Biking was encouraged, and approximately 2,500 people participated in the event. Current murals will stay up anywhere from three months to a full year.

“We got rave reviews. People were astounded by the quality of the art and I think it also helped open people’s eyes to what graffiti and street art is. It’s not all bubble letters, but can also be incredible portraits,” Kristie Schilling said. At the time she was the CEO of the Monona East Side Business Alliance and was a co-organizer of this festival. She focused on marketing, recruitment of volunteers, and the creation of the mural map for the event.

Co-organizer James Gubbins owns Momentum Art Tech, an art-supply store on Cottage Grove Road. which was the headquarters of the event. He took the lead on the groundwork by recruiting all of the artists and curating all of the walls in the community. Both Gubbins and Schilling have been artists since they were very young.

While growing up, Gubbins did a lot of graffiti in the streets of Chicago. “As a kid I saw graffiti art on trains, and realized that because you can’t control it, you have to look at it. This is something that I didn’t need a degree for and I didn’t need approval for. You can just do it and people have to look at it,” he recalled.

This project has taken something that has traditionally been considered a crime and often called vandalism, and turned it into a form of public art. “The outpouring support from the community has been really great. The few complaints we got were people who didn’t like the style of art, but we said that that is kind of the american experience,” Schilling said. They hope to change the mindset of ‘I don’t understand it, so I don’t like it.”

Artists involved were paid, and also gained a lot out of the community experience, comradery, and also the feeling of being legitimized. There was an additional value of this festival for older artists who remember a time when all kinds of graffiti had to be done in secret.

Business benefited from the extra traffic, and because of the longevity of the project, they will continue to benefit for as long as the murals stay up. Some reported the 24th as being their busiest Saturday of the year.

“I have one motivation: to bring it [street art] here. To bring it here and show people what the rest of the world is doing in 2019. We are also trying to set a precedent to pay artists in the city the way they should be paid. I’m trying to change that way of thinking,” Gubbins explained.

These two are not satisfied yet, and still have much more planned for the future of this project. “Bigger and better. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Gubbins said. Schilling left her job on the Monona Business Alliance and is joining Gubbins in running the Momentum Art Tech store. He will continue leading classes at the store for people interested in learning the street art style, and together they plan on starting a non-profit that will support street art and its artists in the area. It will be very education based.

“More walls, more festivals, more educating the public,” Gubbins added. For any La Follette students who are interested in getting involved, stop by Momentum Art Tech at 195 Cottage Grove Rd. They encourage young artists to continue to find outlets to express themselves and to never stop creating art.

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