AWE named as a Community Partner at MOD GEN

Artists Working in Education, Inc, (AWE) and MOD GEN, a modern general store in the Third Ward announces their new community partnership. Both AWE and MOD GEN are long-time staples in the Milwaukee arts community. The partnership began on October 1 and runs through the end of the year. With these two organizations, specifically, the partnership demonstrates how artists can support other artists in creative ways that have a lasting impact on the wider community.

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Accountant Moves Office to the Heart of Bronzeville


AWE is committed to investing in neighborhoods where our programs take place. We’re excited for the growth of our accountant, Megan McCray, who recently moved her business to the Bronzeville neighborhood. She started the accounting firm, McCray Accounting Services in 2014. McCray has over 14 years of experience in the accounting industry. She hopes the new location will allow the accounting firm to be more accessible and proactive in the community and strengthen partnerships.


“There is a tremendous amount of development and resources being put into MLK Drive. The Bucks arena being so close, and the new Main Street designation are promising for the area. I hope to become even more actively involved with the King Dr. BID, P3 Development and the African American Chamber [of Commerce] in helping small businesses be profitable and sustainable,” said McCray.

McCray Accounting got settled into their new space in the middle of August. Megan is already loving the convenience of work being so close to her house. The wife and mother of a daughter, 11, and a son, 5 is pregnant with a second son due in early November.

Specializing in small business bookkeeping, accounting, taxes and everything in between including payroll, vendor bill pay and customer invoicing, McCray has a range of nonprofit clients such as Milwaukee Collegiate Academy, Spectrum Arts MKE, Stillwater Collective and Operation Dream.

“I have a passion for helping small businesses be successful and understand the meaning and importance of their numbers and how that directly correlates with the success of a business, McCray said.” McCray also stressed the importance of helping other small businesses operate. “Many people that start businesses might not realize all that goes into it. I hope to bridge that gap, educate and empower owners to have a healthy business that will last.”

Artists Working in Education has been a client of McCray’s since 2016. McCray especially loves that connection for her children because her daughter has love for art and drawing, her son loves various craft projects.  Beth Haskovec, executive director of AWE said, “Megan and her team at McCray Accounting Services are responsible, flexible and easy to work with. We are proud to be supporting small businesses that work within our targeted neighborhood strategy.”

“Deeper Meanings” – Artistic Board-Up Celebration Recap

A rising freshmen at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Elijah Ashley-Youngblood, stoically walked up to the podium at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 31, and placed a candle on it.

He was surrounded by his peers from Our Next Generation, Mayor Barrett, Senator LaTonya Johnson, District Attorney John Chisholm, and a host of community partners including Artists Working in Education, Near West Side Partners, and Fresh Perspective Artists Collective.

He adjusted the microphone to fit his stature, and began to speak: “What you see in front of you is just a candle right? Nothing more, nothing less. You look at this and ask internally, does this have a deeper meaning than what lies on the surface? The answer is yes.”

Ashley-Youngblood’s candle metaphor draws an important connection between the beautification project recently added to a vacant, city-owned blighted building at 3907 W. Vliet St.

The Artistic Board-Up project brings together nonprofit groups, city government and Milwaukee youth to tackle the loitering, vandalism and other public safety concerns that often come with vacant properties. The Board-Up project gives new life to vacant properties all over the city. It gives the traditional green boards on vacant properties a fresh, bright overhaul on the exterior of the building and beautifying the neighborhood.

In his speech, Ashley-Youngblood, honored his friend, Syreahi Ahmed, 14, who worked in the early phases of the project but passed away before the new boards were installed.

This Board-Up project is one that neighbors and organizations hope to bring to Vliet Street as part of the transformation the street is going through, much like the blighted buildings. The revitalization of Vliet Street has been spearheaded by NWSP, and their anchor institutions Marquette University, Harley-Davidson, MillerCoors, Aurora Health Care and Potawatomi Business Development Corporation, all hoping to add more public art, and business development to the growing neighborhood.

Written by Raina Johnson

2017 Our Town Grant Announcement

We are honored to be part of collaborative projects that have won a prestigious National Endowment for the Arts Our Town grant for the second year in a row! We look forward to creating with our friends at Milwaukee Public Library and numerous other partners over the next two years!


From the NEA’s awardee listing:


City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (aka Milwaukee Public Library)

$150,000 Milwaukee, WI

Our Town – Design To support Gathering Art, Stories and Place at Milwaukee Public Library. The project team will utilize the library’s maker space and other indoor and outdoor gathering spaces to host a variety of storytelling themed programs, including a visual storytelling festival featuring deaf storytellers, an artist lecture series, writing workshops, a new archive of collected neighborhood stories, and two artist in residence programs. A mobile art studio accessible to youth is also planned, providing free art education and cultural enrichment activities. Led by the Milwaukee Public Library and Artists Working in Education, the project team also includes Ex Fabula, the Greater Milwaukee Association of the Deaf, and numerous local schools and community centers. The project partners seek to build social cohesion through meaningful interactions between diverse south side community neighbors.


MKE Plays Update

The City of Milwaukee’s MKE Plays Initiative, and AWE are partnering to help design creative new play spaces for Milwaukee youth through an innovative playground redevelopment program. Last year, the MKE Plays program received a prestigious “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. AWE has been partnering on the project to gain community input, and work with neighborhood youth to create public artwork for four out of the twelve playgrounds the City is redeveloping.

Greenfield Bilingual Students with their temporary art installation at Trowbridge Park

You can read more from our initial announcement of this project here.


During this project, MKE Plays and AWE are partnering with Greenfield Bilingual School, Neighborhood House, Jazale’s Art Studio, Pearls for Teen Girls, and COA Goldin to pair professional artists with youth in the creation of public artwork. All the projects have started, though the creative process and artwork will reflect the unique interests and values of each group.

Artist George Jones is working with youth from Neighborhood House to develop artwork for Merrill Park. They have discussed themes of unity, community, and expression. Youth from the Burnham Park neighborhood are working with artist John Kowalczyk to create artistic gateways for Trowbridge Park (37th & Branting) and mosaic table tops. Youth from COA Goldin and artist Tia Richardson are interested in thematic imagery. They have discussed utilizing a swing in their artistic design, emphasizing expressions of freedom and love. Their playground is located at 21st & Keefe. The new summer youth groups from Pearls for Teen Girls and Jazale’s Art Studio are starting fresh conversations about land use and themes for their playground site in the Harambee neighborhood.

All projects are expected to be completed sometime in the fall. Stay tuned for more information as these exciting projects develop!


“Play has a big smile. They like to have fun with everyone. Play has many activities to do. They always want to make people happy and make them stay positive as much as possible. Play has a nice personality and likes to spend time with family and friends. Play is really creative in whatever they do. Play likes to listen to songs and dance. Play likes to adventure in nature and play outside. Play wears bright clothes to show it’s feelings.”

– poem written by Nathalia of Greenfield Bilingual School at a MKE Plays neighborhood meeting

AIR Celebration Recap

Over the past four weeks, we’ve celebrated some seriously awesome AIR public art projects. Keep reading to learn more about these exceptional groups and their projects:

La Luz del Mundo Family Services- Cultural Identity Woodcuts

In this 5×3 project, youth from La Luz del Mundo Family Services and artist Jenie Gao created individual woodcuts that all represented the different cultural identities of the South Side. They printed these woodcuts at Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative’s Block Build on Saturday, May 20. Their activity was a way for residents to build their community and get to know their neighbors.

Our Next Generation- “Life” Sculpture and Farmer’s Market Shelter Art

In this 5×3 project, Our Next Generation youth and artist Mikal Floyd-Pruitt transformed the farmer’s market area next to Amaranth Bakery & Cafe through painting the shelter and installing a sculpture next to the shelter. Their art focuses on food security, safety, and community building. We celebrated this project during Our Next Generation’s End of Year celebration on May 24 with community members, including students from the La Luz del Mundo 5×3 project! La Luz youth used their wood blocks to print tshirts for celebration attendees. You can visit this project at Amaranth Bakery & Cafe (3421 W. Lisbon Ave.).


Holton Teen Center-  Memorial Sculpture Garden

In this 5×3 project, youth from Holton Teen Center and artist Anwar Floyd-Pruitt created a temporary memorial sculpture garden for the 125 Milwaukee homicide victims in 2016. Each victim is represented by a two-foot tall hand painted flower that has been installed in the ground at 3119 N. Buffum St. We celebrated this project on May 30.


Doerfler Elementary School- Spirit Animals

A group of 8th graders at Doerfler Elementary School have created a mural featuring stylized and colorful spirit animals inspired by Native American myths. Each student created their own panel depicting an animal that they have a connection with. Their mural beautifies the school and inspires students and neighbors alike! We celebrated their project on May 31, but you can go visit it at Doerfler Elementary (3014 W. Scott St.).


Neu-Life Community Development- Elemental Puppet

In this 5×3 project, Neu-Life Community Development youth and artist Gabrielle Tesfaye created a large puppet installation in Alice’s Garden. The art installation is their gift to the garden and its surrounding community, visually depicting the circle of planet earth and life within the garden, and reflecting on the connection between Johnson’s Park and the Underground Railroad. We celebrated this installation on June 1 with community members including Venice Williams and Alderman Russell Stamper II. You can go visit this project at Alice’s Garden (2136 N. 21st St.).

Oliver Wendell Holmes School- Earthbench

Students from Oliver Wendell Holmes School and artist Tia Richardson created imagery that reflect the Earth, peace, unity, and justice and painted those images on the Earthbench. The Earthbench represents collaboration and the community’s efforts in making the environment a cleaner place to live. It celebrates community art, Harambee, and our shared planet. We celebrated this project on June 2, but you can go visit (and sit on it) at 2574 N. Richards St.



Escuela Verde High School- “O-So Different Vend”

In this 5×3 project, student “artivists” of Escuela Verde and artist George Jones created a project they call “O-So Different Vend.” It’s an interactive art installation aimed at addressing issues of consumerism, environmental justice, and neighborhood safety. This unveiling will take place during Escuela Verde’s Senior Presentation Night. This celebration is family friendly, open to the public, and there will be refreshments offered. Come celebrate with us on Thursday, June 15th from 5-7pm at Escuela Verde High School (3628 W. Pierce St.).

Learn more about Escuela Verde’s project!

Introducing AWE’s newest staff members: Raina Johnson and John Kowalczyk!

Please join us in welcoming Raina and John to our team! Raina will be joining us as AWE’s Donor Stewardship & Storytelling Manager and John will be our new Artist in Residence (AIR) Program Director.

Raina Johnson

Photo Credit: (From left to right) Vogue Dreams MKE, Glenda Mitchell, Pat A. Robinson Photos.

Raina’s bio:

Prior to joining AWE, Raina J. Johnson was an associate at Nation Consulting, where she completed various marketing, writing and project work for a wide range of clients.

Raina has extensive media experience working as a journalist, and freelance writer.  She has published work in Metroparent Magazine, and the Neighborhood News Service. She has also done freelance work with Athena Communications, and worked as a legislative aide for two State Representatives.

Raina graduated from Cardinal Stritch University in 2010 with Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English. She currently serves as a board member of 9to5 Wisconsin and Ex Fabula. She is Mom to a magical 7 year old son, Elijah, and she enjoys spending her “freetime” with her friends, on the yoga mat and in community.


John Kowalczyk

You’ll recognize him from several of our projects in the past including the Health Equity Mural on Cesar Chavez and Scott, and the mural at Doerfler Elementary School.

John’s Bio:

Born in Chicago, John Kowalczyk lives and works in Milwaukee, WI as a community artist, and educator. Kowalczyk received his BFA in painting from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2010, and began a three year residency with RedLine Milwaukee. At RedLine, John curated gallery exhibitions and developed a passion for community art while working on the Art Express Program in collaboration with the Milwaukee Art Museum from 2011-2013. In 2014, John began working with Artists Working in Education Inc.  as a lead artist in AWE’s AIR programs, and quickly became enamored with the entire process of public art. The Mitchell Park Mural, Doerfler Intersection Mural, and Health Equity Mural are a few highlights of the work he has accomplished with A.W.E. as a lead artist over the past three years.

Kowalczyk has also worked with a number of local arts programs including Arts at Large, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and  most recently ArtWorks for Milwaukee as a lead artist educator. His desire to serve the nonprofit arts sector is immense and his breadth of program knowledge in art education and community art will serve him well in his role as Program Director for Artists Working in Education, Inc. In his free time, Kowalczyk has an active fine art practice and regularly shows at galleries and museums around the world. His work has been exhibited at The Museum of Wisconsin Art, The Kholer Art Center, The Siena Art Institute in Italy, and The Charles Allis Museum along with other galleries and museums.

5×3 Design Share Recap

5×3 youth groups, artists, A.W.E. staff, and other community members gathered together at the 5×3 Design Share at RedLine Milwaukee Community Art Studio in late March. The youth groups shared their plans for the public art project they’re working on with the event’s attendees, and were able to meet their peers and learn about other projects.

These are the design concepts the youth shared:

  1. Escuela Verde and artist, George Jones (Silver City)-

    Photo by Sue Vliet of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

    They have chosen to focus on the topics of anti-consumerism and environmental justice. They will be proposing to create a vending machine made out of recycled materials. Instead of money, the vending machine will accept generosity, kindness, positivity, and respect. Instead of candy or soda, it will dispense uplifting and positive items like small pieces of art, seeds, and words of encouragement.

    Photo by Sue Vliet of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

  2. La Luz del Mundo Family Services and artist, Jenie Gao (Clarke Square)- “Our focus is on cultural

    Photo by Sue Vliet of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

    identity, and how knowing who we are is a part of feeling rooted where we are.” The youth from La Luz del Mundo are concerned with the issue of segregation in Milwaukee. They seek to show, through their project, that people are more connected than they think, even if they live in different neighborhoods. They have been learning about fractals (a recurring pattern in nature) and applied that concept to their conversations about human connection. They are planning on creating individual wood cuts that will connect as parts of a larger image.

  3. COA Holton Teen Center and artist, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt (Harambee)-“Holton Youth Center participants work with Milwaukee artist, Anwar Floyd-Pruitt to create a temporary memorial sculpture garden for the 154 Milwaukee Homicide Victims in 2016. Each victim is represented by a two-foot tall hand painted flower that will be placed in the ground in a vacant lot near the intersection of Burleigh and Buffum in the Riverwest neighborhood. Youth participants developed the topic of Stopping Gun Violence in the early weeks of the partnership. Since then, we have been exploring black history through the lense of contemporary artists and abstraction.”

  4. Our Next Generation High School Connection and artist Mikal Floyd-Pruitt (Washington Park)-

    ONG youth discusses their project with Design Share guest.

    Teens from ONG will work with Amaranth Cafe owner, Dave Boucher to address the issues of food security, safety, and community building in their neighborhood. The teens plan to beautify the farmer’s market shelter close to Dave’s cafe and the ONG office. They will add inspirational messages with three dimensional letters to the shelter. They are also considering installing a complementary sculpture next to the shelter.

  5. Neu Life Community Development and artist, Gabrielle Tesfaye (Lindsay Heights)-

    Photo by Sue Vliet of Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service.

    “We will create one life sizes puppet, with each limb representing one of the four elements- earth, air, fire, and water. These elements are reflected in what it takes to grow a garden. [The project will be installed in Alice’s Garden.] …The Neu Life youth is interested in spreading and exposing positivity in their neighborhood. These puppets will be the elements of life, personified into a human figure that communicates the building blocks and unity of the community.”



Thank you to RedLine Milwaukee, Steve Vande Zande, and Mando Ibarra, and our community partners, Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative, Washington Park Partners, Layton Boulevard West Neighbors, Riverworks Center, and Safe-Sound Neighborhood-Communications.

Our 5×3 program began in 2016 with the plan to provide opportunities for youth to create public art over alongside professional artists in five target neighborhoods over the course of three years. These projects are funded by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Racial Equity and Inclusion grant, MPS Partnership for the Arts and Humanities, Milwaukee Arts Board through the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin, the Herzfeld Foundation, the Zilber Family Foundation, and the Mary L. Nohl Fund.

This event was covered by the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service. You can read that article here.

Truck Studio Intern Profile: Kelsey Cavin

Meet Kelsey! Kelsey Cavin began working for A.W.E. as a high school intern for Truck Studio in 2014 while attending the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. Since then, Kelsey has worked for A.W.E. as an office intern and a college level Truck Studio intern- and she plans to keep working for us this upcoming summer! Here’s more:

Kelsey with a Truck Studio participant at Burnham Park

What motivated you to apply to our internship?

I’ve known I’ve wanted to work with kids for a long time. In high school, I was batting around the idea of majoring in art education, so A.W.E. seemed like the most applicable option to me. Plus, I wanted to work outside, and gain some job experience that might be versatile when I’m trying to pay for school.

Why does art matter to you?

Art is my favoritest thing in the world, ever.  I mean totally and completely. I’m devoted to it. Completely head over heels. It’s the most versatile method of communication out there; imagery can convey things there aren’t words for. I think that’s really incredible, that you can literally show another person how you see. It’s even crazier that they can see things you didn’t put there on purpose! Art is bonding and it’s talking.

What skills did you develop during your time working for A.W.E?

As a young person, the social and professional skills I gained there did me a lot of good. Reanna is a really patient person and probably the best first boss a kid could ask for! I learned a lot about resume building, how to act in interviews, hiring process, professionalism, etc… It helped a lot with an old phobia I had of talking to strangers, too. Having to talk to parents and community members helped me overcome that.

What was the best part of your internship?

Always and forever, conversing with kids. They are so smart, they have so many ideas, so much to say. I learn so much when I’m working with them, about art and myself. They have super open minds. They suggest the most outrageous stuff, but I always start thinking, well, why can’t we execute this idea? Just being privileged enough to experience and be included in their raw perceptions and musing of the world is awesome.

Do you have a favorite memory from the summer?

I have loads! In my first year, at the end of programming, we all went to Noodles and Company together. This is sentimental, but it was like, one of the first times I went out to eat with a lot of people, and felt like I belonged there.

And of course there’s tons of unforgettable kids! This little girl from Tippecanoe Library, Ruari, was just the most hilarious kid I’d ever met…She made her mom an 8.5”x 11” accordion style “card,” that, I kid you not, was about 15 double sided pages of flower drawings. I mean it–it wasn’t even a card, it was a book, but she was calling it a card. She was hilarious and totally unrestricted. Her project covered a whole table. I strive to be more like Ruari, so free and out there.

Has working at A.W.E. helped you realize any creative or professional goals?

I think it definitely solidified my interest in doing art with/for kids. I’d always liked them but I didn’t realize they were actual artistic geniuses ​until I started doing A.W.E.

What would you say to someone thinking of applying to work for A.W.E?

It’s the best, man! Seriously, there’s not a more fun job out there. However, I only advise it if you genuinely care about it. Nothing’s more discouraging to a kid than you not caring; they can tell when you don’t.


AIR Intern Profile: Maureen Castillo

Through our A.W.E. profile series we’ll introduce you to some of the people who power our organization.

Maureen photographing Lake Michigan

Meet Maureen Castillo! She began working for A.W.E. as an AIR intern in May 2016, while she was a senior at Carmen High School of Science and Technology: South Campus. She grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee, off of Cesar Chavez Dr. and now resides in West Allis with her family. Here’s some of our conversation:

How did you hear about A.W.E? How did you decide to apply?
My advisor in high school told me about it. It was past the date to apply, but I thought I might as well try. I feel like the only reason that really encouraged me to actually fill out the application was because it said “artist.” I love art and I thought- it’s probably going to be fun and I’m gonna learn a lot from it.

What did you learn from this experience?
Paint! I learned how to paint…I worked with John and Sandra by the 16th Street Clinic on the Health Equity Mural. Working on that project was the first time I spoke my mind. I feel like through doing that I started to come out of my shell a little bit. I felt accepted by the people around me because I’ve never worked with people who love art. Working all summer with people who love art just as much as you do makes you feel comfortable. It makes you feel like you belong.

Maureen’s brother, Fredy

Your brother, Fredy, joined in on a lot of projects this summer. How did he get involved?
I would come home covered with paint and he would just ask, “What were you doing at work?” and I would tell him and then he wanted to come to work with me. My mom was also saying that I should take him with me. And I didn’t see that it was a problem and he did help out and he pulled in little kids and started playing with them which was good for the community too. So, I just dragged him along too.


How did it feel to make art in your old neighborhood?
I lived on 18th street by the Health Equity mural. That was like, my neighborhood. I’ve moved, but it was good to be back and add art there. When we added that mural there, it felt like we improved our community a little bit. A bunch of people [in the neighborhood] who were just passing by stopped and picked up a paintbrush and helped for a little and then just moved on with their day. Seeing that, it kind of made me think that once it was done, people were just gonna enjoy that it was there, that it was just part of them now. I like to think that people think more of it than that it’s just pretty.

You also did some photography for A.W.E. When did you become interested in photography?
At the end of 8th grade, I found myself taking a lot of photos of pretty much anything, mostly nature with my phone only. My brother got me a camera about two years ago, but up until high school, I didn’t realize that I could do it for a job. So, when I noticed that you could [become a photographer], I started to take it more seriously. When I found out that A.W.E. needed photographers, I thought that it was a great fit.

What would you say to someone thinking about applying to be an intern?
Do it, apply, it’s gonna be amazing. You’re gonna have a bunch of fun with kids. You’re gonna make friends, friends in different parts of Milwaukee. We went to the North side and the South Side. If you love art. If you love painting. If you just enjoy art and want to be a professional artist or just do it as a hobby, you should apply. It’s just, woah, it’s amazing. I love A.W.E., honestly. You’re never going to get bored, you’re going to grow, you’re going experience a lot of things, you’re going to have to- I feel like i’ve gotten more creative. Just apply because its gonna be awesome.


Photos Maureen took during her AIR internship

Maureen now has a photography job with Visual Image Photography, based out of Cedarburg and Waukesha. She will be taking school and team portraits for schools in the Milwaukee and Chicago area.