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Request for Qualifications - Vel R. Phillips Plaza

Artist Commission Opportunity with City of Milwaukee


Vel R Phillips. Image credit: Acts HousingIn 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 traiblazer, Vel R. Phillips.

The Plaza will feature original art work honoring Vel R. Phillips. The final art work 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 Wisconsin and around the United States.

The Vel R. Phillips Plaza will also feature informational kiosks to provide educational information about Vel R. Phillips and her vital contributions to the city, state, and nation, in providing support and context for the final commissioned art work.


"What have you done today, that's good?"

About Vel R. Phillips

In preparation of an Artist/Artist Team statement, the Artist/Artist Team should consider the groundbreaking work Vel R. Phillips accomplished, and the specific historical forces, political overlays and modern challenges that have shaped the Milwaukee community. The final chosen Artist/Artist Team will also need to demonstrate an understanding of our contemporary, critical period in the nationwide consideration of monuments, in how we honor citizens of the country and why. 

Vel R. Phillips’s life dates:

February 18, 1924 – April 17, 2018

Vel R. Phillips quote:

“What have you done, today, that’s good?” 

Vel R. Phillips’s many firsts:

• 1951 First Black woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School

• 1956 First woman and first Black citizen elected to Milwaukee’s Common Council

• 1960 First Black citizen elected to the National Committee of either major political party

• 1971 First woman judge in Milwaukee County, and first Black judge in Wisconsin 

• 1978 First Black citizen, and first woman, elected to statewide office (Secretary of State)

Goals for the Artist Commission:

• The art work will serve as a permanent placement of significant aesthetic value in honoring Vel R. Phillips.

• The art work will engage downtown workers, residents and visitors for a meaningful cultural experience.

• The art work will provide a focal point of attention in what will become a newly-bustling, multi-use space that will be visible to nearby areas.

• The art work will be constructed using durable materials that can withstand weather and human interaction.

• The art work will represent an engaged artistic practice.

The all-inclusive budget for the Artist Commission is $600,000.



About the Vel R. Phillips Plaza Area and Redevelopment Plan

The creation of the Vel R. Phillips Plaza on City-owned property will:

  • Serve as an anchor for the business, residential, retail and entertainment densification that is occurring on West Wisconsin Avenue
  • Create a new social gathering space in the evolving Westown area
  • Provide space for the future expansion of Milwaukee’s light rail (The Hop) and bus systems to serve residents with more public transportation options 
  • Invest in the previously under-resourced gateway to the areas west and north of downtown
  • Expand job opportunities for Milwaukee residents and provide future opportunities for pop-up cultural activities

The Plaza master plan and current design is by Kubala Washatko Architects, landscape architect Saiki Design, and civil engineer HNTB.


Schematic drawing of site redevelopment with primary area for artist consideration noted


Current demolition of site looking at northern portion of the site


Submit in writing to [email protected].

About Vel R. Phillips

PBS Wisconsin Documentaries
“Vel Phillips: Dream Big Dreams”, Robert Trondson, dir., 2015

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“Everything you want to know about Vel Phillips that’s probably not in a history book”, Lalney Seyler, April 18, 2018

“Pioneering civil rights leader Vel Phillips remembered as unwavering voice for justice”, Mary Spicuzza, April 17, 2018

“Vel Phillips taught me that it was important to make people uncomfortable”, James E. Causey, April 18, 2018

“50-Year Ache: How far has Milwaukee come since the 1967 civil rights marches?”

Wisconsin Women Making History

The History Makers: The Digital Repository for the Black Experience

America’s Black Holocaust Museum

Milwaukee Bronzeville Histories
“Vel R. Phillips: A Women of Many Firsts”, Kitonga Alexander, 2019

Books about Milwaukee
Jones, Dr. Sandra E. Voice of Milwaukee Bronzeville (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2021).

Greenan, Paul H. Civil Rights Activism in Milwaukee: South Side Struggles in the 60s and 70s (Charleston, S.C.: The History Press, 2014).

Gurda, John. The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society, 2018).

Historic Milwaukee, Inc.



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