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Exploring Milwaukee Public Art: Black Cat Alley & Beyond

John Kowalczyk

Working in a contemporary art museum means I spend a lot of time surrounded by art. So it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that when I travel I often seek out arts and cultural attractions. Earlier this year I spent some time in Wisconsin and was surprised to discover that Milwaukee is home to a vibrant public art scene. Wandering the streets of Milwaukee, it seemed like every corner or unassuming alleyway burst with color and unexpected inspiration.

If you’re headed to the city anytime soon, I highly recommend you explore Milwaukee public art from one of its newer epicenters in Black Cat Alley and beyond. There are tons of incredible murals I didn’t have time to see, but a few of my favorite places to experience the city’s public art are below.

As I explored Milwaukee I found murals everywhere. Towering stories above the streets or tucked into alleyways adjacent to popular coffee shops. I especially enjoyed this vibrant scene outside the Third Ward location of Colectivo Coffee, 223 E. St. Paul Avenue.

If you’re feeling extra ambitious with your public art exploration, check out the Milwaukee Mural Map, an incredible resource that maps out the city’s copious public art.

But Milwaukee has more to offer than murals. Nearly 20 years ago, the Milwaukee Building’s owner and property manager John J. Burke wanted to start a conversation about public art in downtown Milwaukee. So he designed and installed three fiber glass ladybugs on the exterior of his building. Passing them, it’s impossible not to smile at these larger-than-life beetles.

You can read more about the giant ladybugs on the exterior of the Milwaukee Building, 622 North Water Street, via Milwaukee Public Radio.

Black Cat Alley

When I was planning my trip to Milwaukee, one of the recommendations I received was to visit Black Cat Alley. An incredible outdoor mural gallery located on the East Side of Milwaukee, Black Cat Alley opened in 2016. This two-block public art installation is tucked discreetly into the rest of the busy neighborhood. Stumbling upon its colorful murals felt like discovering a secret alley of inspiration.

While it’s hard to choose a favorite, my favorite pieces were Bunnie Reiss’ Scandinavian looking scene and John Kowalczyk vibrant reindeer. I also loved the work of Milwaukee artist Jeremy Novy, whose stenciled koi appear all over the city.

Location: Black Cat Alley is located in the alleyway between the Oriental Theatre on Farwell Avenue and Colectivo Coffee on Prospect Avenue. You can enter the alleyway from East Kenilworth Place or East Ivanhoe Place. The outdoor gallery also conveniently shows up on Google Maps if you need some help navigating the area.

University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin student Ian McGibbon
Jeremy Novy
Bunnie Reiss
Jeff Redmon
Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design student Renee Aless Martinez
Jeremy Novy

Of all the things to do in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the public art scene is not to be missed! From colorful murals to sculptures attached to office buildings, exploring public art in Milwaukee is a great activity for kids, art lovers and everyone in between. #Milwaukee #Wisconsin #publicart

Where’s your favorite place to experience Milwaukee public art?

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Comments (23)

These murals are so vibrant! Next time I’m in Milwaukee I am definitely exploring this public art. Fortunately I’m only about an hour and a half away so hopefully I can visit soon.

They’re such a wonderful colorful surprise tucked away in downtown! It’s definitely worth a visit the next time you make it to Milwaukee. I’m jealous you’re so close to such great art (and great cheese curds). Thanks for reading!

Love seeing all of these again!

Right!? I’m so glad we made some time for a public art detour during WITS!

Love these! I’ve seen the ladybugs which are super cute, and last week I checked out some of their sculptures, but haven’t seen the murals yet! Definitely need another trip!

Aren’t they the cutest!? There’s so much to see in Milwaukee, but a quick public art tour is definitely a must. Thanks for reading!

What vibrant colors. All the murals are gorgeous. I have never been to Milwaukee but when I do I look forward to visiting the above recommendations!

Milwaukee is a great city! On top of awesome public art they’ve also got incredible breweries, amazing cultural attractions, and all the cheese curds you could eat. Thanks so much for reading!

Those murals and structures are so fun! Loved the lady bugs! Now I must definitely visit Milwaukee. I love street art as it offers a different perspective to the world.

Aren’t the ladybugs fun? They definitely made me smile. Milwaukee is a great city with so much inspiring art.

A very colourful post. I love anything to do with Street art, I think it’s so interesting! Have you ever been to Lisbon in Portugal or Manchester in the UK? The street art there is amazing too.

Me too! I haven’t been to Lisbon or Manchester but will definitely add them to my list. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

I love this post idea! I always love seeing the public art when I travel to new places!

I couldn’t agree more—public art is one of my favorite things to discover when I travel. Thanks so much for reading!

I NEED to see these! We aren’t too far away so I’m adding this to our itinerary! Thanks for the share.

They’re really fun and adding new ones all the time! It’s definitely worth an afternoon adventure, especially if you’re close by.

Love! Love! Love! We just left Milwaukee and I didn’t even think of the street art! Def. a reason to go back!!

Absolutely! Milwaukee has so much to see and street art is an incredible part of the city. Thanks for reading!

I wish I had seen this post before I went to Milwaukee this spring! So cool! I will need to head back there for a weekend again soon and check out these murals!

The city’s incredible street art is the perfect excuse to go back for another visit! There’s so much to see and the best part is that it’s always changing. I can’t wait to hear about what you discover the next time you visit!

Coo! Milwaukee has so much great public and street art, but I totally missed this. Guess I’d better plan a return trip!

Definitely! Milwaukee surprised me with all of its amazing art. I could have spent my entire trip seeking out incredible art. Thanks for reading!

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