On June 14, representatives from Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS), Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, and artist CK Ledesma unveiled the first piece from a new art program that turned the bus shelter at the northeast corner of Humboldt Boulevard and North Avenue into a canvas.

The Bus Art Project MKE was developed to feature the designs of the local artists on bus shelters throughout Milwaukee County. Inspired by a similar project Lybra Ray started in Sheboygan, she approached MCTS with the idea and found support.

“I grew up riding the bus in Milwaukee, so this project is part of me and my story. All my friends rode the bus, and we still ride the bus. We wanted to find a way to unify our communities with art,” said Ray. “Since were the ones to ride the bus, we want to see this art and make these bus shelters more interesting. Otherwise, it is just glass and seeing art on it makes it more fun.”

The first artists to join the project include Bigshot Robot, Charity Ekpo, CK Ledesma, Kristen Lopez, LaNia Sproles, Libby Vandebunte, Santos Kahlo, and Shawn DeKay. Originally from Puerto Rico, artist CK Ledesma has been in Milwaukee for 11 years. His art title “Cluster” was chosen as one of the first two highlight for the public reveal.

“It’s my representation of community, through color and shape, the faces of my friends, and it is a reflection of what our community can be, and what it is,” said Ledesma. “It is an honor to have this work seen by thousands of people a day, and hopefully this art project will explode into a bigger project. I would like to see artists in Milwaukee be able to participate in this and continue to build a reputation for Milwaukee as a thriving art scene.”

Charity Ekpo’s “Raining on Your Parade” was the second installation revealed on June 14, on the southwest corner of N. Humboldt Boulevard and Center Street, also in the Riverwest neighborhood. Following locations are planed in Bay View and Walker’s Point.

“I wanted to participate in this project because I think it’s a great way to continue showing just how creative Milwaukee is. That we’re capable of taking something people maybe wouldn’t normally consider exciting, and turning it into something fun and visually intriguing,” said Ekpo. “Art is a great way to express yourself. I hope these awesome designs will inspire others to want to channel their creative side, and make something amazing for themselves and/or others to see.”

The art shelter program is now part of a unique partnership between MCTS and the Bus Art Project MKE. The group originally aimed to raise $2,000 for launching the project. Chris Abele gave them a private grant for $5,000 which will fund art for at least ten bus shelter locations.

“Adding art to bus shelters is an amazing use of public space,” said County Executive Abele. “I’ve always been a proud supporter of local arts, and I love it when I get to announce a partnership like this. We now have a program to make every bus shelter more beautiful, and that improves the quality of life, when we can celebrate great local artists and their work.”

Because many of the MCTS bus shelters are owned by the media billboard company Clear Channel for advertising displays, the Bus Art Project MKE will be able to utilize the remaining hundreds of locations owned by the County.

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Lee Matz