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Public art planned for East Side library

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  • Rendering of the Serpent.
  • Local artist Ray Chi.
  • Rendering of the Rack.
  • Rendering of the Boulder.

It's a busy time for Milwaukee Public Library -- a brand new, state of the art branch will be opening on the East Side later this year.  And besides the new technology and modern design, the library will also feature the work of local artists.

"The Milwaukee Public Library has always had a tradition for including art -- public art -- in all of its buildings," said Library Director Paula Kiely.

Ray Chi, an instructor at UWM and a local filmmaker, submitted his concept for an installation piece outside the entrance.  It was selected from a pool of 22 proposals, and he got the news he was selected straight from Kiely. 

"Honestly there was a 50 percent chance I thought it could be a call because I had a lot of overdue fines from library," joked Chi. "It turned out that wasn't the case, luckily, and I was actually chosen."

His winning idea is a series of three outdoor sculptures.  They will direct people to the entrance of library on Cramer Street. 

The first piece is called "the rack," a series of bike racks that will twist and transform as you walk along North Ave.  Then, as you round the corner onto Cramer St., you'll find "the serpent," ribbons of grass that ungulate above the ground level.  Finally, at the entrance, "the boulder" will invite visitors to climb up and enjoy a book, or simply take in the culture of the eclectic East Side.

All of the art is meant to spark the imaginations of those passing by.

"I want people to open their eyes up a little wider for magical, unexpected things to happen around them," Chi said, adding that he drew inspiration from his own 6-year-old son's curiosity about the world around him. 

In additon to the outdoor installation, artwork will also be displayed inside the library.  Local artists Santiago Cucullu and Kathryn E. Martin have been commissioned to create individual pieces, using materials reclaimed from the former library's interior.

The $4 million development will also include a small retail space and 99 luxury apartments.