The murals of De Pere
De Pere aims at providing cultural amenities through public art
By Kira Doman
Driving around the City of De Pere, it’s easy to see the many murals that continue to grace the sides of buildings.
For the past two decades, City Administrator Larry Delo has managed community operations and worked on a variety of art projects, and their associated funding needs.
“Our goal is to really add those cultural amenities throughout the downtown and in different parts of the city, that create a unique experience that recognizes, ‘Yup, I’m in De Pere,’” he said.
Moolah for murals
In 2015, Delo said things really got started when the De Pere City Council approved an art initiative of $100,000 – aimed at brightening up the city with public art pieces.
“The city chose to dedicate a significant amount of money for cultural tourism aspects to promote economic development in the community and the downtown,” he said.
Delo said the first expenditures were made in 2018.
“Then again in 2019, and 2020 and 2021, and we expect a bit more in 2022,” he said. “We worked out an arrangement with City Council so that Definitely De Pere would be the entity we work with to manage the public art aspect of the funding.”
Tina Quigley, who has served as executive director of Definitely De Pere since 2016, is no stranger to public art initiatives – working for more than 20 years as the executive director of the Northeastern Wisconsin Arts Council, now referred to as Mosaic.
“(Definitely De Pere) formed a public art committee of volunteers that oversee public art downtown,” she said.
Quigley said things took off from there.
“We issued a call for art and identified eight building walls in downtown De Pere, so it was kind of a site-specific project,” she said.
Quigley said all eight projects were advertised together, with details on dimensions, building materials and a budget included for each.
She said more than 30 area artists submitted more than 80 designs for the mural projects.
Quigley said thus far, six of the eight murals have been completed.
How it’s done
Delo said the city tries to stay out of the artistic process for the murals, leaving the creativity to the artist and Definitely De Pere – only advising in regards to historical buildings.
“It’s that kind of a collaboration from our end to make sure that they’re trying to identify sites we anticipate will be there for a while, are quite visible in the community and support their overall initiative on what they’re trying to do,” Delo said.
Once a building is chosen and the general idea of the mural subject has been agreed upon, Quigley said the next step is analyzing the material of the building and assessing the materials needed, which directly correlates to how long the process will take.
“I look at the size of the wall, if the texture of the wall would make a difference, how sketchy it is and how dangerous it is, that makes a difference,” local muralist Andrew Linksens said. “As far as the timing of it, ‘The Bull’ mural was about six weeks. ‘The Elephant’ was probably a similar thing.”
When planning things out, Linskens said he considers the impermanence of a mural, and how that causes not only him to pause and reflect, but also those who stumble across it – noting a mural is a time capsule held in place only temporarily by a wall.
He said this then allows for the process to begin again, and a new mural to take its place.
“It’s very satisfying to do something knowing that it’s ephemeral,” he said. “A good mural will last you 10 years, and then they’ll start to fade, and they’ll start to peel and you have to start that process over. I guess that ephemeral nature of it is part of what draws me to it too.”
Quigley said the responsibility of supporting public art doesn’t lie solely on the shoulders of the city and its officials, but also on donations from art lovers and residents.
“We noticed one thing that happened as we did our initial walls, it really did inspire some private property owner commissions of walls,” she said.
For example, Quigley said, “The Elephant” (located at 109 N. Broadway) and “The Bull” (located at 101 S. Broadway) painted by Linskens were property-owner commissioned murals.
Linskens said community reaction to his work is what motivates him to continue adding his art to the city.
“The majority of people are just very curious, especially kids,” he said. “A lot of times kids will come up and I’ll ask if they want to paint some, and they’re just in awe. And I let them paint a little bit. They’ll take that with them as a memory.”
Linskens said “The Elephant” is one of his favorite murals he’s created.
“The animal seems to have an impact with people,” he said. “When it rains, water comes out of the trunk as it connects to the downspout. I don’t think a lot of people realize that.”
At the end of the day, Linskens said if his murals provide a moment of pause for people in the midst of this chaotic world, “that’s all I really want.”
“Just like two seconds for people to slow down, not think about all this other madness – that’s all it really is,” he said. “Art can speak in a language that is not polarizing.”
Delo said each mural serves a different purpose for their audiences.
“They all have such unique characteristics to them,” he said.
Delo said the artist of the Historic Paper Industry mural (located at 131 N. Broadway), James Barany, included his own face, as well as those of his family and friends, into the mural.
“There are different stories to all of them, and what they did and how they put them together, and why they did what they did and they just seem to work,” he said. “They all stand out in their own way.”
To learn more about the murals and Definitely De Pere, head to definitelydepere.org.
Kira Doman is an editor and freelance journalist who graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay in the spring of 2021.