City of Milwaukee Announces Artist Opportunity at Vel R. Phillips Plaza

Future public gathering space to feature original art installation in honor of iconic Milwaukee political activist and civil rights leader

MILWAUKEE – The Department of City Development (DCD) is commissioning an original public art installation at a new public plaza to be named in honor of Milwaukee politician, attorney, jurist and civil rights activist, Vel R. Phillips.

The Vel R. Phillips Plaza will be situated south of Wisconsin Avenue between North 5th Street and North Vel R. Phillips Avenue. Full funding for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza has been approved by the City of Milwaukee. Construction on the plaza began this summer.

In addition to various public amenities, the Plaza will feature an original City-commissioned art installation in honor of Vel R. Phillips. The final art installation will serve as a creative representation of Vel R. Phillips’ work in breaking down social and cultural barriers for women, and women of color, in the City of Milwaukee, throughout the State of Wisconsin, and around the United States.

The goals for the City-commissioned public art installation include:

• Serving as a permanent placement of significant aesthetic value in honoring Vel R. Phillips’ life and legacy;

• Engaging downtown workers, residents and visitors for a meaningful cultural experience;

• Providing a focal point of attention in what will become a newly-bustling, multi-use space that will be visible to nearby areas;

• Being constructed using durable materials that can withstand weather and human interaction; and

• Representing an engaged artistic practice that reflects the historic nature of Vel R. Phillips’ life and legacy.

The selected artist will be chosen by a committee comprised of City of Milwaukee leaders, non-profit representatives, local artists, and community members. The all-inclusive budget for the City-commissioned public art installation is $600,000. The anticipated installation of the final art work will be within the first half of 2025.

Informational kiosks will also be constructed at the Plaza that will provide education information about Vel R. Phillips and her vital contributions to the city, state, and nation, in contextualizing the final City-commissioned public art installation. These kiosks will feature an annual exhibition of art works by local artists with themes linked to the work of Vel R. Phillips.

Vel R. Phillips was both the first African American and first woman elected to the Milwaukee Common Council, the first female judge in Milwaukee County and the first black judge in the State of Wisconsin. She was the first woman to hold the office of Secretary of State in Wisconsin and the first African American to win a statewide election. Up until her passing in April of 2018, Phillips was an active leader in pushing for social justice, education and equal opportunities for minorities in Milwaukee.

More information about the Request for Qualifications (RFQ) is available at

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