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AARP AARP States Wisconsin Livable Communities

Two Milwaukee Projects Win AARP WI’s Small Dollar, Big Impact Grants

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Two separate community improvement proposals – one to create a mural art project and the other to create a vital fresh-food access point – have been selected to receive Small Dollar, Big Impact grants from AARP Wisconsin. Judges selected these projects to receive $1,000 grants after receiving dozens of proposals from various organizations.

One project will help create the Vliet Street Oasis. Vliet Street in Milwaukee’s Near West Side has been transformed by local businesses and residents of the Martin Drive, Cold Spring Park, and Washington Park neighborhoods. The Vliet Street Oasis will bring life to a vacant city-owned lot and serve as a vital fresh-food access point and community gathering space, supporting a neighborhood farmers market and area restaurants.

The judging panel was impressed that this project creates important outdoor spaces during the pandemic and brings food access to an area that can be considered a food desert. The grant dollars will help the group continue improving a project that helps several segments of their community.

The other project, proposed by the Havenwoods Economic Development Corporation, is for the Villard District Mural Project, which calls for installing five murals in the neighborhood this summer in an effort to celebrate and uplift the community, while showcasing local Milwaukee artists.

The judging panel liked this plan because it integrates environmental messages into the murals, while brightening the area and creating positive feelings. The group will be actively engaged in the community, creating something they can be proud of, giving work to local artists and encouraging others to sponsor their work, the judges said.

Both projects fit perfectly with the spirit and intent of the grant program, which aims to support communities as they make positive changes that inspire long-term progress on livable issues.

The Vliet Street Oasis was developed by a cross-generational group of residents and businesses who make up the neighborhood organizing committee and is supported by the local Business Improvement District and Neat West Side Partners (NWSP). The purpose of this project is threefold.

First, the Oasis will support new restaurants impacted by COVID-19 by providing ample outdoor space for visitors to enjoy take-out dinners. Second, it will provide a permanent home for local farmers to sell produce year-round at a dedicated produce stand and seasonally at the Near West Side Farmers Market. It will serve as a fresh food destination for residents in an area with limited access to grocers. Finally, this project will serve as a vital gathering place for residents while improving the look and feel of Vliet Street.

“NWSP has worked hard to identify farmers who can use the new produce stand as a next-day outlet for produce not sold at larger markets on prior days,” said Lindsey St. Arnold Bell of the Near West Side Partners.

“We are hoping these finishing touches help to create a welcoming environment that appeals and invites local residents, business patrons, and those that drive by to stop, further establishing Vliet Street as a destination for residents and visitors alike. The $1,000 grant will liven up the space, establish Vliet Street as a fresh food access point, and encourage residents and visitors to meet at the Vliet Street Oasis.”

The goal of the Villard District Mural Project is to revitalize the community, engage citizens, invite tourism, and promote community pride. One of the murals will be devoted to an ecologically-themed interactive public art piece that will beautify the area and educate the public about environmental degradation.

Specifically, they plan to choose an ecological theme which will be thoroughly researched and transformed into a unique art piece that transports viewers into an otherwise inaccessible environment. Upon completion, there will be a code embedded on the mural that people can scan with their smart phones and link to environmental websites. Additionally, they will wrap positive environmental messages on trash receptacles and have a chalkboard painted area where members of the community can write down how they contribute to a positive environment.

“We believe that art brings people together in a way that hardly any other kind of initiative can quite achieve, and we wish to restore neighborhood and community pride by beautifying our streets with original works of art that will delight passers-by and encourage conversations,” said Angeliquie L. Sharpe of Havenwoods.

“This project is unique because it is the first, and largest public art project on the far west side of Milwaukee. It also gives a nod and some respect to the people that have been surviving through the last several decades of economic disinvestment in the area. It will also be home to one of the few interactive murals in the city of Milwaukee,” Sharpe said in her grant application.

AARP Wisconsin’s Small Dollar, Big Impact grants are being awarded once a month through November.

“These grants are exactly what the name describes – short-term, low-cost solutions that could have remarkable impacts on the shaping of neighborhoods and cities,” said Darrin Wasniewski, Associate State Director of Community Outreach for AARP Wisconsin.

“There are so many great ideas and proposals for making life better in communities across Wisconsin. We know how impactful $1,000 can be. This is our way of extending some seed money to get these projects off the ground.”

Other communities that have been awarded grants so far this year include:
Osceola, Platteville, Milwaukee, Green Bay, and Beaver Dam. Future grant applications will be due by Sept. 21 and Oct. 19.

The grant program is open to some nonprofits and government entities. Other organizations will be considered on a case-by-case basis. A full listing of requirements and expectations, as well as a link to apply for the grants, can be found HERE.

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