Dozens of volunteers installed pieces of colorful tile for a new public art exhibit along the fence at the corner of 27th and Wisconsin, by the closed Wisconsin Avenue Elementary School, with messages of hope for Near West Side residents.

The public art installation was moved forward a day to April 26, because weather forecasts for the original date predicted several inches of snow. Near West Side residents, volunteers, and local artists installed more than 1,500 ceramic medallions at the intersection. The “Voices of the City” exhibit is a collection of tiled works designed to beautify the neighborhood, and pass along messages of love and encouragement.

“The Near West Side Partners asked our group to do an art installation here,” said Lori Gramling, director of the 26th Street Project. “We are a group of about 25 artists who live around 26th and National.”

The grassroots organization has been dedicated to creating meaningful change around Milwaukee through integrating art into community-based projects. The group worked for three months going around the Near West Side neighborhood to connect with 1,500 residents and transcribe their personal messages onto the tiles.

“For a community art project like this, we ask people in the neighborhood to write messages of courage and hope, and inscribe them on different tiles of clay,” said Gramling. “Then our team of artists will glaze and then fire them, and prepare for installation. In this case, the tiles are installed right on the fence.”

While tiles can last almost forever, Gramling anticipates the exhibit being in place for for two years or less. At that point, the 26th Street Project plans on taking it down and installing portions at some of the places that contributed to the project, like the Milwaukee Center For Independence.

“What we always say to people when they’re inscribing is: ‘if you are having a difficult day, what’s the message you would really want to read? How would you encourage someone? How would you comfort them, and give them hope?’ So these messages are all the wisdom of local people,” added Gramling. “That is why we called the project ‘Voices of the City’ because it’s the wisdom of the people encouraging people.”