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Placemaking in Stevens Point: a day with Gil Penalosa and Mayor Wiza

Susan and Gil smile in front of the Portage County Annex building.

In early May, AARP Wisconsin hosted an all-day workshop with the one and only Gil Penalosa, founder of 8 80 Cities and expert in parks, placemaking, livability, and public spaces. The in-person presentation was held in Stevens Point, a Green Tier Legacy Community that has invested in placemaking efforts such as a city-wide bike trail and public art in the downtown area. After the workshop, participants were invited to take a walking tour of downtown with Mayor Mike Wiza. What follows is just a sample of what we saw.

We passed by many artists rendering images on public trash cans. The "trash can-vas" (get it?!) combines function with aesthetic.

Many large murals grace the sides of brick buildings. Some, like the first one pictured here, are simply quite beautiful. Others carry a message. The second image is a picture of two foxes and reads "What the lion cannot manage, the fox can," which presumably indicates that it pays to be clever. The most striking mural was a portrait of Ruth Bader Ginsberg wearing an iconic dissent collar with the quote "Women belong in all places where decisions are being made" and a crown in the shape of protesters.

The park along the Plover River is home to several incredible sculptures, known as the Cultural Commons. Pictured first is "Umbrella Man," a bent lamp post designed to look like someone holding an umbrella. A path leading to the middle of the park winds around a group of sculptures that were part of an exchange with three sister cities around the world. The canoe, eagle, and stalks of wheat fashioned from iron came from Glucz, Poland; the rock sculpture was created in the mountains of Esteli, Nicaragua; the bell and public chess set were a gift from Rostov Veliky, Russia.

Ending on a playful note, we visited the Silly Crosswalk, which garnered a lot of media attention when it was unveiled in 2016. (For those unfamiliar with the Monty Python Flying Circus skit Ministry of Silly Walks, take a few minutes to watch here!)

Mayor Wiza and Gail Sumi of the League of Municipalities more than happy to give us a demonstration!

There is so much more to see in downtown Stevens Point!

Does your city or town have public art you want to share with Active Wisconsin? Let us know by emailing

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