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Volunteers hope to bring art, other attractions, to blighted lots in Harambee

August 28, 2021

For Cory Malchow, big change comes from small beginnings.

Malchow envisioned something more for an empty lot just down the street from his home in Harambee, a neighborhood on Milwaukee’s north side.

The city-owned lot at North Richards and East Locust streets had been empty for years, since a demolition brought down a condemned house.

Malchow earlier won a mini-grant from the city to install one of his sculptures in the empty lot last year, surrounded by a bed of flowers.

Now, he and other community members are working to turn the vacant lot into a sculpture garden, one of eight projects underway in Harambee as part of a city-led initiative called Healing Spaces.

“My goal is to get 32 pieces of artwork in here,” including not only sculptures but other art pieces, said Malchow, an artist.

He hopes the art garden will be an attraction for community members and others, and help spur interest and investment in Harambee.

“The smallest thing actually changes a lot,” he said. “People will realize that this is a great community, a great neighborhood to be in.”

The Healing Spaces initiative, led by Milwaukee’s Neighborhood Improvement Development Corporation and funded through a $70,000 grant from Bader Philanthropies, is in its first year and is working to beautify vacant, city-owned lots in the Harambee neighborhood in an effort to transform them into gathering places, reduce blight and curb illegal dumping.

Milwaukee Ald. Milele Coggs, whose district includes Harambee and who helped spearhead the project, hopes the initiative will grow and expand to other neighborhoods.

On Saturday, volunteers and Harambee residents dug holes for the concrete pads that will support three sculptures. They also planted flowers, spread soil and painted the boxes that will hold books for little free libraries that will be placed in various spaces.

Kevin Brown, who grew up in Harambee and was volunteering Saturday, took a break from spreading soil, a wide-brimmed hat shading his face from the hot sun.

“This is an opportunity for me to give back personally what I’m asking the community to do,” he said, saying he wanted to lead by example. “Build it and they will come.”