By Nyesha Stone
It’s no secret that Milwaukee’s downtown is being revamped. With so much focus on the downtown area, it seems as if the city has forgotten about surrounding neighborhoods. Artist Letasha Smith and Milwaukee Hip-Hop Artist Ray Nitti, however, have not.
Aside from his successful music career, Nitti is a community activist that partnered with Riverwest on their 53212 Marketplace pop-ups. They target vacant spaces, or spaces with low activity and add creative installments to impact the community in a positive way.
Nitti saw Smith’s work and contacted her to join him in adding creative installments to Riverwest’s “pop-ups”. Last Thursday morning, the two met at one of the pop-up spaces in the Harambee neighborhood on Keefe Ave. and Palmer St—where they added a few installments.
Smith said they came the day before their July 28 event and painted the park’s tree white, so the children could leave their colorful handprints on it the following day.
Each creative installment is treated as a community event, with Nitti as the host, and the neighborhood members collectively creating art together to bring color, attention and something new to the area where the pop-up space resides.
“[This will] be a spot for families to come have fun…be motivated, Smith said.”
The park already had a full jungle playground set with benches painted as speakers and old containers revamped to be used as trash cans.
In addition to working with Nitti, Smith is an art teacher—she works with children and adults conducting youth art therapy, and; sip and paint for the adults. Her paint classes send the message that “there are people that care about the city,” she said.” She also decorates cakes—overall, she’s a very creative person.
“It warms my heart to do this with the kids,” Smith said about her efforts to clean up the Milwaukee area. “We’re only trying to make the neighborhood better.”
She continued: “When we as a community work together, we can create something beautiful and that doesn’t have to be arts, just life.”
Nitti said he was already doing creative place making with other organizations who were receiving crazy amounts of money. So, he decided to team with an organization he knew was directly using their money to impact the community.
Now, on Keefe Ave. and Palmer St., kids who live in an improvised neighborhood, can go outside and enjoy a beautiful park of their own. This will change their perspective on life and show them there’s more to life than what they see on a daily basis—they can strive for more.
“We want to change the norms of what our environments are,” he said. Nitti said most of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods have or are experiencing blind trauma. But, by adding installments such as painting a regular walkway into a gigantic piano, they can spark something in a child that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.