The ARTery: Connecting Milwaukee through creativity



Recycled railroad ties, vibrant, graffiti-style paintings and automobile tires were collaboratively used to refurbish and decorate the five donated shipping crates that sit along a gravel trail. Across from industrial buildings a unique sign made out of stacks of wood and metal stands reads: “the ARTery.”

The ARTery is an abandoned railroad corridor that has been transformed into a linear park that spans two-thirds of a mile. It is located at the intersection of Keefe Avenue and Richards Street. This linear park has not been created to be a typical park, but rather a creative space for the community.

This unique area has been brought to Milwaukee by the organization Beintween, a network of people with the objective to “improvise space to build community,” according to The Artery.

To create the ARTery, Beintween worked in partnerships with the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Riverworks and the City of Milwaukee through the support of an ArtPlace America grant known as Creational Trails.

“Creational Trails is taking a unique approach to developing interactive art projects in targeted neighborhoods with the aim of raising visibility of those areas and activity within, such as increased foot and bike traffic,” according to Creational Trails.

Keith Hayes, founder of Beintween and project directer of The ARTery, said, “With the capacity of a project like the ARTery, it could bring people together to reduce the perception that negatively affects the ability of neighborhood integration. The ARTery is to bring people together around things that withstand cultural, economic and social boundaries by infusing a space with creativity, art and performance.”

Along the ARTery Trail are five shipping containers, a hand-crafted basketball court and benches created out of recycled automobile tires. Each shipping container has a different purpose. One is used for storage and one is an insulated classroom with wireless Internet, tablets and an office space. The other three are stages. One of the stages is called “Center Stage” and has tire benches placed in front of the stage for an audience.

Four main event series have taken place at the ARTery since opening to the public in early summer 2014: Season One Performance Series, Be On Stage, Community Potluck Series and ican2labs have brought hundreds of community members to the park.

  • Season One Performance Series included three different showcases that took place on the last Saturday in June, July and August. An open call went out to performers in December, asking, “How do you want to perform in public spaces?” 20 winners were given $500 for being in the top 20 and a budget of $1,000 – $1,500 to carry out their ideas in one of three showcases hosted in the summer.

“One performer danced with paint on a canvas and created art with his feet. One did a poetry showcase. Another did African drumming,” said Ashley Oberst, intern at Beintween.

  • Be On Stage open mic was held at the center stage from 7-9 p.m. on Tuesday nights and was open to the public. A free film was screened from 9-11 p.m.
  • The Community Potluck Series consisted of four different potlucks hosted at the Artery for the whole community to come and share food.
  • Ican2labs was an event hosted at the Artery every Saturday from 1-4 p.m. This took place in the classroom lab and had a youth focus to provide educational resources outside of school.

“The Martin Luther King Library [the closest library to the ARTery] is closed on Saturdays, so we wanted to create an alternative place for kids to go that need to do homework,” Hayes said. “We work with kids to see what they want to build, provide them with toys, and have Samsung tablets for them to do research or play games on.”

Keith Hayes, founder of the ARTery

Keith Hayes, founder of the Intween and Project director of the ARTery

The sharp divide of the neighborhood inspired Hayes to conceptualize the idea of the ARTery. After moving to Milwaukee to get his master’s degree in architecture from UW-Milwaukee, Hayes studied the perimeter of Milwaukee and the boundaries within the city.

“There are very distinct lines drawn, and Holton street is very vividly the line on the North side,” Hayes said. “The length of the ARTery connects the two neighborhoods of Riverwest and Harombee, so I wondered, ‘could the ARTery be the stitch between the neighborhoods?’”

Keith’s master’s program at UW-Milwaukee focused on leftover people, leftover space and leftover materials.

“Beintween became the thing that connected those three things and the ARTery is our first large-scale attempt to use those three things,” Hayes said.

The ARTery is always open, but according to Hayes, not many community members spend time there when there is not an event going on.

“A lot of people either don’t know about it, don’t feel safe back there, or don’t know what it is,” Hayes said.

Since the ARTery is outdoors, there are no plans yet for events during the winter.

“Our mission is to improvise spaces, so there are endless possibilities for the winter,” Hayes said. “We do have electricity in three of the shipping containers, and have plans to get heating in the classroom.”

In 2015, the gravel trail at the ARTery will be paved with asphalt, and the linear park will gain a sixth shipping container that will be turned into a greenhouse.

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