When residents of the Allied and Dunn’s Marsh neighborhood found out how big of a disruption the Verona Road project was going to be, they weren’t about to take the news lying down.
Then again, they kind of did.
Road construction has also meant art creation in the areas near where Highway 18-151 meets the Beltline, with residents taking part in works that bring color and a local touch to the massive project.
“It’s not just someone saying, ‘I think this will look great in your neighborhood,’” said Monona artist Elizabeth Doyle, who worked with residents on the mosaic murals that were installed earlier this month at a roundabout under Verona Road. “It’s all about having the visual space reflect who they are and be proud of it.”
The mosaics Doyle worked on involved local kids lying down on paper and being traced by their friends, the figures colored in and recreated in tile. So the figures that are now seen under the highway near Atticus Road and the McDonald’s are, indeed, neighbor kids.
“It’s great to have something so personal,” said Doyle, who teaches art at Madison’s Elvejhem Elementary. “It just adds something.”
Doyle was one of three artists working on projects that have been part of the construction. Another, on a frontage road along the south side of the Beltline, also brought in residents to help create mosaics. A third, referred to as a “light box,” is in a new pedestrian area also below the raised Verona Road.
The art projects are a unique twist on what the state Department of Transportation calls Community Sensitive Solutions, something that is often part of major highway work. Mark Vesperman, design project manager for WisDOT, said 1 percent of the cost of projects such as this are budgeted for neighborhood enhancements that sometimes just are improved landscaping or tree plantings.
“On the bigger projects we try to connect with the area because it changes the nature of it a little bit,” he said.
The budget for the entire highway project is $216.5 million, and the percentage of it for Community Sensitive Solutions extends to the entirety of the project that includes Verona Road and the Beltline. Other enhancements in the budget include landscaping, bridge and water basin work and cameras in the pedestrian underpass.
Strand Associates is the lead engineering consultant on the project, and Ken Saiki Design, a local landscape architectural firm, is a sub-consultant working on the Community Sensitive Solutions aspect of the project. Besides landscaping, bridge design and other aesthetics, Saiki’s company also hired three artists to work with the neighborhood projects.
Artwork is generally not part of the enhancement projects, but ended up so due to a push by neighborhood residents led by Mary Mullen, who had helped found the Dunn’s Marsh Neighborhood Association in 1973.
“It didn’t seem as if the highway project was going to benefit the neighborhood in any way,” she said of her neighborhood, which is in the vicinity of Seminole Highway south of the Beltline.
When Mullen learned about Community Sensitive Solutions, she thought it might be nice to have some mosaics or paintings incorporated into the designs for the neighborhood. She began taking ideas for them to the project’s open houses.
Artists who made presentations included Doyle, Madison artist Marcia Yapp and Milwaukee artist Reginald Baylor. All were chosen to create different works in different areas of the project.
Doyle’s project got underway first in February 2014 with children in the Allied Drive neighborhood participating in “tracing parties” at the Boys and Girls Club, at Second Baptist Church and the Prairie Unitarian Universalist Society. Children ranging in age from 3 to 17 were among those being traced, and the tough part for Doyle was whittling the 77 tracings to the 11 that are now on the mosaic mural.
“Some might have been more powerful on their own but I had to figure out how to tell the story with the figures and make them work together,” she said.
Girls with a plan
The tracing of one neighborhood boy was unique — participants first set his wheelchair on the paper and traced it, followed by the boy himself. Four girls came with a mission.
“They said, ‘We know how we want to lay beside each other, we need two pieces of paper,’” Doyle said. “They had practiced their pose and it became kind of the core of the design. Everything else kind of sprang from that.”
The drawings were then turned into mosaics using tiles made of stained glass that had been tumbled to take away sharp edges. In all, between tracing and coloring figures and placing tiles, Doyle estimated 150 people participated, primarily kids.
The Dunn’s Marsh project had some similarities. Yapp’s group also worked with mosaics, though they were made of ceramic tiles. Those mosaics don’t illustrate neighborhood people as specifically as does Doyle’s project, but illustrate the neighborhood itself.
“The community didn’t just want something pretty, they wanted something that represented them,” Yapp said. “They want people to know about the neighborhood.”
The designs were drawn by Yapp based on community input. She went on a three-hour walking tour of the neighborhood with residents and learned what they found important. Yapp wasn’t unfamiliar with the area, having done a mosaic project for a community garden in Marlboro Park. But she wanted to learn more.
“She didn’t realize there was so much more to the neighborhood,” Mullen said.
Diversity in designs
Residents wanted something to represent the marsh itself, the natural areas in the neighborhood as well as the bird and plant life. The diversity in the neighborhood – large and small homes and apartments as well as racial diversity – is represented by a cornucopia.
From November 2014 to this April, in an empty retail space along the frontage road, neighbors and people from outside the neighborhood came to lend a hand cutting and placing the tiles. On drawings made by Yapp and divided as a kind of paint-by-numbers set, about 50 people helped create the mosaic that will be installed at the foot of a new pedestrian walkway.
Yapp’s project is scheduled to be installed before Oct. 1. That’s also the target date for Baylor’s, which is a 23-foot-high installation called a “light box” that uses images on lighting.
While the project was created to help the neighborhood, it also ended up introducing new people to it. Mullen said a friendship developed between the people who worked on the Dunn’s Marsh mosaic, some of whom live outside the area but heard about the project and volunteered their time.
“It’s like we’ve let them know where Dunn’s Marsh is and they might not have known that before,” she said.