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Gabe Yeager and his role in revitalizing downtown Milwaukee through public art

Milwaukee has been experiencing a great evolution of public art over the last decade. From Sculpture Milwaukee, to new murals on all types of surfaces of all sizes — public art is playing a central role in how we experience the city.

While there are many artists we can thank for adding color and vitality to our surroundings, we should also be thanking Gabe Yeager. He’s the director of public space initiatives with Milwaukee Downtown, BID 21, and he’s had a hand in launching all types of public art projects with local artists since 2014. Yeager and his work were featured in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine, and for him this journey has been a rewarding one.

Arriving in Milwaukee in from Minnesota to study architecture at UW-Milwaukee, Yaeger got connected with the CEO of Milwaukee Downtown. "We met and hit it off really quickly. We both share a love for downtown and a love of how people connect and how downtowns are really everybody's neighborhood and we we locked in on that," he explains. Yeager became an intern for MKE Downtown and was heavily involved in the first three years of Sculpture Milwaukee, a project aimed at increasing art visualization on a large scale in the downtown area. He's been with the organization since then, expanding on his role just as he does with public art in the city.

Gabe Yeager, director of public space initiatives with MKE Downtown, BID 21
Photo by Aliza Baran
Milwaukee Magazine
Gabe Yeager, director of public space initiatives with MKE Downtown, BID 21

When reflecting on the inaugural Sculpture Milwaukee, Yeager says it was "really a bold vision" that elevated both the city's architecture and Wisconsin Avenue as our main street to bring people from the lakefront down to the Wisconsin Convention Center long before the other projects we see today that are also revitalizing downtown.

MKE Downtown produced around 20 sculptures in the first year. Today, they continue outdoor sculpture installations in addition to the now 30 murals (and counting) done by local, national, and international artists contributing to the artistic blueprint of the city.

"I hope we're planting seeds that public art is way more than just putting up fun colors on the wall, and I think that at the end of the day, there's true economic impact," notes Yeager. "There's a true impact to how people feel in the perceptions of downtown and quite frankly, hopefully, we've made it a much more attractive and vibrant city than it was 10 years ago... [I] love Milwaukee and love to continue to see it moving forward."


Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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