Many walls symbolize separation, but not those of Madison Mural Alley, one of Wisconsin’s newest public art destinations. Here, they celebrate collaboration.

Last summer artists from across the country teamed up with local youth to create five large-scale works. What was once a dingy alley behind the Madison East Shopping Center on the east side of the city is now a colorful display of graphics, imagery and even historic city references for passersby to discover while biking or walking on the nearby Starkweather Creek Path.

The project began with the ingenuity of the neighborhood planning process. According to Karin Wolf, Madison’s arts program administrator, it’s a testament to the power of placemaking, an approach to city planning that uses arts, culture and community members’ ideas to transform struggling spaces.

“When people biked past this alley, they used to see dumpsters and rats,” Wolf explains. “As part of a planning process, neighborhood residents said they’d like to use murals to give the spot a more positive face.”

Before long the project secured funding from the Madison Arts Commission, and the Bubbler, the Madison Public Library’s art initiative and makerspace, signed on to coordinate the details.

Inspired by San Francisco’s Mission District murals, Bubbler chief Trent Miller and his team recruited artists known for letterpress printing, hand-painted signs and more. In addition to helping conceptualize the murals, Madison kids—including residents of the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center—learned about printmaking and typography at artist-led workshops.

Five artist teams painted the alley through August 2018, despite searing temperatures and severe thunderstorms. Two of the murals—“Squeeze the Life Outta Lemons” by Detroit’s Amos Paul Kennedy and “Better Together” by Flavia Zimbardi and Caetano Calomino of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Henrique Nardi, a Brazilian artist living in Madison—highlight the power of words. The former uses song lyrics to promote perserverance, while the latter urges viewers to erase the lines that divide society. The project also features works by Wisconsin- based artists Lesley Anne Numbers, Pete Hodapp and Richie Morales.

2707 E. Washington Ave., behind the Madison East Shopping Center and Hawthorne Library |

Photo by Madison Public Library

This article originally appeared in the 2019 spring/summer issue of Experience Wisconsin magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


In addition writing arts-themed books and articles, Jessica Steinhoff has served as an editor at two Wisconsin newspapers: Madison's Isthmus and Milwaukee's Shepherd Express.

Comments are closed.