Creation before your eyes
Mural & Busker Festival will grace streets of the Broadway District for second year
By Heather Graves
From artists and musicians to acrobats and magicians, the streets of the Broadway District in downtown Green Bay will again be filled with local artists and performers as they continue to add to the city’s downtown arts inventory, all while giving attendees an up-close-and-personal look at the process.
After a successful inaugural event in 2021, On Broadway, Inc. – a community-based nonprofit dedicated to strengthening the Green Bay community – decided to give its Mural & Busker Festival another go, offering even more this year.
“It not only entertains the masses for an entire weekend, but it also creates a long-lasting impact in our slice of downtown Green Bay,” Allie Thut, director of special events for On Broadway, Inc., said. “These beautiful pieces of artwork are a draw for people to come to our district time and time again.”
Thut said the nonprofit received such a positive response from the artists, buskers and community that a return was a no-brainer.
“We have 10 murals going up this year and 25-plus buskers,” she said.
Thut said the event was planned with the COVID-19 pandemic in mind; however, the event’s outside locale helps limit restrictions.
“Having the event outside where the murals are laid out throughout the district allows people to feel safe and able to spread out,” she said.
During the two-day event, presented by Fox Communities Credit Union, muralists will turn walls of downtown buildings into on-the-spot artistic masterpieces.
Thut said everything about the event is unique.
“Coming out and seeing muralists in their element work on massive pieces of artwork while being entertained by performers of all skills and abilities is rare,” she said. “This event also spans the Broadway District. We have murals going up all over, so patrons have freedom to explore the district and learn more about businesses or areas they didn’t know were here.”
Heather Wessley, the community engagement manager with Fox Communities Credit Union, said the organization is excited to team up with On Broadway, Inc. as the event’s presenting sponsor.
“This is such a wonderful event to support local arts while beautifying the Broadway District,” Wessley said.
Thut said the 10 murals created during this year’s event will join the stock of 10 murals created during last year’s event – continuing to brighten Broadway District walls.
She said many of the artists that participated in last year’s event have come back to be a part of this year’s event, including local multidisciplinary artist Kent Hutchison, of Hutchison Art and Design.
“I’m looking forward to sharing the creative energy that will be flowing among all the other amazing muralists and musicians who will be contributing this year,” he said.
Hutchison, who has been creating sculptures and paintings for more than 15 years – ranging from animals and humans to abstract representations of emotion and energy – said he’s excited to be a part of the event’s second go-around.
“The Mural & Busker Festival is going to be an expression explosion that you won’t want to miss,” he said.
Hutchison said his artistic contribution this year is a collaboration piece with fellow local artist Gregory Crewl Fredric, a Port-au-Prince, Haiti native who uses color to chronicle aspects of the day through his business CrewlArt, named after his childhood nickname ‘Crewl’.
“I’m super jazzed to collaborate on a piece with painting guru Gregory Crewl Fredric,” he said.
As a second-year participant, local muralist Heather Peterman said she’s excited to add more of her “Good Energy Art” to the community.
“It really makes me feel good to have the opportunity to help make Green Bay a more fun and colorful place to live while also getting work that helps promote my business,” she said.
Peterman said the experience for both the artists/performers and the attendees is like no other.
“It is fun to chat with people walking by as you paint,” she said. “Seeing all the art when it is done is a true delight, and I feel so fortunate to be a part of it. It is so good for Green Bay and all its wonderful visitors.”
In addition to event veterans, the festival is welcoming a few newcomers, something Thut said helps spice things up.
“We are thrilled this year to bring in outside talent to diversify the guest experience,” she said.
One of those newbies is Koda Witsken, owner and lead creator for Hue Murals – A Shade Above, who completes mural and art installation projects nationwide.
Witsken said after seeing the callout for artists for the event, she jumped at the chance to participate.
“Any time art brings people together, it’s a good thing in my book,” she said.
The Indiana-native’s participation in this year’s event will be her first mural work in Green Bay.
“I’m excited to celebrate the history, flora and fauna of Green Bay, as well as the Oneida Nation’s history and connection to nature in my mural,” she said.
Witsken said her mural – which will consist mostly of spray paint – will take shape in the parking lot at 109 N. Broadway.
She said as a female muralist from the Midwest, it’s her goal and honor to add art to the region of the country that she calls home.
“Connections forged through positivity and collaboration are connections that last,” Witsken said. “Almost as importantly though, investing in public art supports local economic growth. It draws traffic, new businesses and dollars to local businesses and encourages cultural vibrance. It celebrates inclusivity and weaves community narratives. It brands a community and provides a sense of place. It can encourage public safety and so much more.”
From preparation to creation
The process leading up to the weekend-long event, for artists like Andrew Linskens, a local muralist who is participating in his second Mural & Busker Festival, is just as important as the work on the day of – from wall preparation to creative brainstorming.
“To prepare, the wall surface is cleaned, scraped and primed,” Linskens said. “Then the base color is applied. I then intuitively paint the flowers. In this design it will simply be white flowers over gray.”
Peterman said hours of work goes into a mural project even before paint is put on the wall.
“Last year, I had major brick wall repairs that took a week of scraping, power washing, caulking, priming and painting before I could even start the mural for the festival,” she said.
Peterman said the process also includes many hours of brainstorming and sketching to iron out a final concept and paint colors, which is always a challenge.
“Then you have to get the scaffolding, ladders, drop clothes, brushes and all the other supplies together to actually paint the mural,” she said.
Aside from the prepping and priming work, mural creation will happen during the weekend-long event – giving attendees a peek into the overall process.
Witsken said the festival is also a true representation of collaboration.
After being picked by the event’s selection committee, Witsken said her mural plan needed the approval from a variety of stakeholders.
“I made a proposal for the local historic board’s approval, seeing as my mural wall is part of a historic building, and materials needed to be vetted before installation,” she said. “I also worked with the property owner, On Broadway, Inc. and the Oneida Nation on a design approved by all three entities to best reflect each stakeholder’s interests and histories. This is truly a community effort, with design input coming from the committee, community stakeholders, historic approvers and Oneida leaders as well.”
Returning muralist Peter Koury said the process always begins with an initial conversation with the building’s owners and On Broadway, Inc. to come up with an idea that’s conducive to everyone.
“(With) perimeters in place, I begin researching and then working on some preliminary mock ups that are submitted for feedback,” he said. “Both last year’s mural recipients and this year’s project had a specific concept in mind and (the building’s owners) have been very receptive to my ideas and have allowed me the latitude to create and execute my vision, which I’m very grateful for as it makes my job a whole lot easier when clients show faith in your abilities to bring their vision to fruition.”
Linskens said his piece, and that of all who are participating, provide an elegant backdrop for both patrons and passersby.
“Ultimately, it will be an Instagram space, so for the final step I photograph the mural and make adjustments based off the photo,” Linskens said. “Sometimes there are things I see in the photo that I want to correct that I didn’t see with just my eyes.”
He said the Mural & Busker Festival affords the community an opportunity to see art in a different way.
“I love creating outdoor murals,” Linskens said. “It’s a way for people to see art that normally may not. Art is better when it is inclusive. Street art also provides a moment of pause for the viewer in their busy day. That small moment of pause may have a huge impact for someone.”
Koury said the festival allows artists the opportunity to engage with the community, which is something that doesn’t happen when you work alone.
“I don’t often get any direct feedback,” he said. “This festival affords that in-person interaction. Those conversations last year were incredibly endearing and encouraging and were one of the deciding factors when I made the choice to participate again.”
Koury said his personal connection to the downtown area – his great grandfather previously owning a grocery store near Broadway and Dousman and an uncle who had a hamburger stand on Broadway – makes his participation in the festival personal.
“It’s an honor to be able to share my art in the area that’s been a part of my family history going back 100 years,” he said.
In addition to muralists, the festival, which runs throughout the day from June 18-19, features street performers, also known as buskers.
A busker is an individual or group that provides entertainment in public places.
Performances can range from music, dance, comedy, visual art or circle acts featuring jugglers, dancers, balloon artists, magicians, chalk artists and more.
Armed with instruments, hula hoops, bubbles, stilts, balloons, chalk and many other tools, artists and performers will flood the Broadway District offering an afternoon full of entertainment.
A few local buskers on the docket for this year’s event include Cujo, Navage Mirage, Miss Mego, Rondini, Courtney Paulson and Magic and Mischief.
“We have some out-of-town acts coming as well, such as our stilt walkers and statue performers,” Thut said. “Our major shows are the Farmer’s Daughter Show, Major League Circus Show, Uni Unicorn and Pineapple Man.”
Thut said transportation is another addition to this year’s event.
“There is a shuttle being offered with the event on June 18 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. that will take people throughout downtown Green Bay and the various events going on that day and there is a stop at the Mural and Busker Festival,” she said.
More information on the event and the participating muralists is available at onbroadway.org.
“This event brings so much joy and life to the Broadway District,” Thut said.
Heather Graves is the editor of The Press Times and a contributing writer for Green Bay City Pages. She can be reached at [email protected].