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IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 29, 2024


Finalists for Artist Commission at Vel R. Phillips Plaza announced


MILWAUKEE - The Department of City Development (DCD) is proud to announce the three finalists for an Artist Commission at the Vel R. Phillips Plaza.

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 in summer 2023. In addition to various public amenities, the Plaza will feature an original City-commissioned art installation in honor of Vel R. Phillips. 

“The creation of the Vel R. Phillips Plaza isn’t just about transforming a parking lot, it’s about inviting creativity into our shared spaces, embracing connection, and honoring a legacy,” said Department of City Development Commissioner Lafayette Crump. “This initiative will enrich the lives of those who call Milwaukee home, and I celebrate the artists eager to make a profound impact.”

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.

“As a tribute to Vel R. Phillips, a true trailblazer, we’re thrilled to reveal the three exceptional finalists for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza Artist Commission,” District 6 Alderwoman Milele Coggs said. “The chosen artist(s) will work with our city to breathe life into this transformative project, creating a vibrant social space for our community. I anticipate the unveiling of the final masterpiece in 2025.” 


The top three artists and teams include:

Karyn Olivier
Philadelphia-based artist Karyn Olivier, born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, has completed numerous public art projects in Pennsylvania, Lexington, KY, Houston, TX, and New York, among others, over the past two decades. Recent one-person exhibitions have been held at the Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; the Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; and Third Space Art Projects, Toronto. Her work was included in Documenta 15, Kassel, Germany, in 2022; Arte in Memoria Biennale 10, Rome, Italy, in 2019; and Drifting in Daylight, a group project by Creative Time in Central Park, New York, in 2015. She currently teaches at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, Philadelphia.
Nicolas Lampert and Glenn Williams Collaborative Team
Milwaukee-based artist Nicolas Lampert is the head of Community Arts and Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 2013 he published A People’s Art History of the United States: 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists in Social Justice Movements, published by The New Press, New York. His printed work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, Harvard University Art Library, and other public collections across the country. Lampert is also an art organizer for Voces de la Frontera, Milwaukee, and is producing permanent artwork for the Baird Center, Milwaukee, opening in 2024.
Glenn Williams is an Associate Professor of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Williams has been creating sculptures for over two decades, with permanent works in Milwaukee, Columbia, Missouri, and Ames, Iowa. He recently had a one-person exhibition at the James Watrous Gallery, Wisconsin Academy of Arts and Letters Madison. His work was included in the 2018 Wisconsin Artists Biennial at the Museum of Wisconsin Art, West Bend, and in a group show at the Franconia Sculpture Park in Franconia, MN, in 2016, among others.
Ken Lum
Ken Lum, a naturalized American citizen born in Canada, works in Philadelphia and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania. He has permanent public artworks in the United Kingdom, the United States, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Italy. In Canada, he has permanent works in Vancouver, Edmonton, and Toronto. Lum is the co-founder of Monument Lab, a public art think talk considering the role of monumentation in contemporary society. Recent one-person exhibitions have been held at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; Remai Modern, Saskatoon, Canada; Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium; Sculpture International Rotterdam at Kruisplein, The Netherlands; and Royale Projects, Los Angeles.


Phase I

In the fall of 2023, the City of Milwaukee invited professional artists and artist teams across the country and Europe to submit their qualifications for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza Artist Commission Opportunity. 

In recognition of one of the country’s leading Black woman jurists, politicians, and civil rights leaders, the City of Milwaukee is proudly working to transform a surface parking lot into an activated social space named after Milwaukee’s own trailblazer, Vel R. Phillips. The all-inclusive budget for the Artist Commission is $600,000.

The Art Committee team, made up of 14 curators, artists, collectors, community members, and City staff, scored 60 projects and narrowed down to the top three finalists. 

Phase II

Artists have been contracted with a Memorandum of Understanding, facilitating a comprehensive site visit. This phase includes the development of a detailed outline for the proposal timeline, reporting schedule, and procedures for proposal submissions and subsequent interviews. 

The culmination of Phase II will see the final artist(s) chosen by the Art Committee in the fall of 2024. 

Phase III

The chosen artist(s) will work closely with the City on various aspects crucial to the project’s success, including crafting a timeline, submitting engineer plans to secure necessary permits, and coordinating the shipping and installation logistics. 

The final artwork will be installed and unveiled to the public in 2025. 

The Department of City Development invites the community to stay tuned for further updates.


Year of Vel Phillips

The Vel R. Phillips Plaza will open to the public in the summer of 2024 and is part of the Year of Vel Phillips celebrations in honor of Mrs. Phillips. The official launch of the Year of Vel Phillips activities will take place at the Milwaukee Art Museum on February 18, 2024, the actual date of Vel Phillips’ birth. Additional activities celebrating Vel Phillips include the installation of a sculpture by Radcliffe Bailey in honor of Vel Phillips in Madison at the State Capitol grounds; poetry readings, book discussions, and an exhibition that will include images of Vel R. Phillips.

“I am excited to witness artistic brilliance as we proudly unveil three outstanding finalists for the Vel R. Phillips Plaza Artist Commission,” Mike Phillips, son of Vel Phillips and Art Committee Chair, said. “The selected artist(s) are poised to infuse life into our vision and I eagerly await the 2025 reveal and the transformative power our final artist(s) will bring to our community.”

For further information on this project, visit milwaukee.gov/velrphillipsRFQ.



Commissioner Lafayette L. Crump 

Lafayette L. Crump, Commissioner 


 809 North Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202 




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