Magic Grove in the neighborhood park

A magical partnership between the community and the City of Milwaukee government

Bruce Cameron
Executive Director
Enderis Park Neighborhood Association
Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Four years ago, our neighborhood (Enderis Park on the western edge of the City of Milwaukee) took on the project of renovating the City park that was the predominant green space in our community. Of course, as we quickly learned, that meant forming a close working relationship with the City's Department of Public Works, the park's owner. When they agreed to our design plans, and we began raising money to augment their costs on the project, we got the idea that we wanted a piece of art in the park to be the exclamation point on our joint effort.

The Magic Grove—created by artist/sculptor Nancy Metz White—was installed at Enderis Park in November 2006. (Photo by David Parsons)

In contrast to the sand volleyball and resurfaced basketball courts, the handicap access ramp, swings and running track, it could be said that public art is useless, and therefore valueless. Instead, we saw it as a statement we wanted to make about the park and our community, a statement that said, "Sure, we value all the utilitarian improvements, but we also value the park for its beauty, color and the space it provides for our community to come together, and we want a piece of art that symbolizes that, too."

Aided by a grant from the City of Milwaukee Arts Board, we conducted a search and found artist/sculptor Nancy Metz White who presented us with three trees she titled Magic Grove. Her vision was that it serve as both a symbol of and actual gathering place. Her last work, the Tree of Life, sits at the entrance to the parkway leading to Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers. So our piece also would serve to knit together like-minded, though disparate in geography, areas of the city.

From left to right: Alderman Michael Murphy, Mayor Tom Barrett and the author release doves during the Magic Grove dedication ceremony. (Photo by David Parsons)

Once we selected this artist and this piece, the work shifted to raising private dollars for this public art. Since her budget for the project was twice the ceiling we had set during the search process, our neighborhood community began to question both our capacity for raising the money, and how spending that amount fit with how we thought of ourselves as a neighborhood. Some also questioned what a colorful metal sculpture would be doing in a green pastoral park surrounded by large shade trees. As anyone who has dealt with public art can attest, whatever the design, it does get people talking.

In the end, with the art major on our neighborhood board leading the discussion, we saw that this piece would both stand the test of time and create an identity for both the park and the neighborhood, and would also stand for the uplifting quality of art in an urban area. With the artist putting her shoulder to the work of raising the additional money with us, we completed that task and successfully installed the Grove in the park in November '06. Surrounding it, we laid a circular brick walkway with pavers that were engraved with the names of residents, their families, and quotations of poetry and prose from people whose donations contributed to the park renovations.

  The May 27, 2007 dedication ceremony of Magic Grove in Enderis Park (Photo by David Parsons)

Last May, we formally dedicated the piece on behalf of the neighborhood and the city we are proud to be a working partner with. The piece is a recipient of one of the mayor's Urban Design Awards.

Bruce Cameron can be reached at (414) 771-6212 or bgcameron@sbcglobal.net.