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WITH VIDEO: Painters hope Downtown Kenosha mural leads to more street art
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WITH VIDEO: Painters hope Downtown Kenosha mural leads to more street art

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You could say Jaime Brown and Karim Jabbari are kindred spirits.

The two artists travel the world creating large-scale murals, including a work called “Kindred” that covers a downtown Milwaukee skywalk. They also collaborated last month on a mural in Janesville.

Their latest creation has turned the east wall of Kenosha Creative Space, 624 57th St., into a colorful painting.

At first, the design looks like a mishmash of bright geometric shapes.

But there’s a meaning behind the shapes — one that reflects Kenosha’s heritage.

The mural actually reads “Kinoje,” which is the Ojibwe tribe’s word for “pike” and “honors Kenosha’s roots and the beginning of the word ‘Kenosha,’” Brown said. “Once you see the word there,” she added, “you can’t unsee it.”

Brown is a Kenosha native and Tremper High School graduate who moved back to her hometown a few years ago after stints in Los Angeles and Morocco. Jabbari is a native of Tunisia who grew up in Canada and now calls Kenosha home.

Brown and Jabbari met briefly Wednesday afternoon with Mayor John Antaramian and Alderman Bill Siel to discuss the possibilities of bringing more “street art” to Kenosha.

“We’re happy to have spread some color and some cheer with this mural,” Brown said. “Hopefully, this can be the start of more murals.”

People in Kenosha “love art,” she added. “You can see it in the colorful plywood boards painted all over the downtown. Art unifies people. Especially colorful art, in my opinion.”

Jabbari said in his travels, he’s seen “the impact street art can have. It creates tourism and brings people together. You will see the impact here. By bringing art outside to the public, you transform urban, public spaces.”

Antaramian — who started his remarks by saying “you can never have enough art” — is proud that local government has been “hiring students to do art projects for 25 years, all over the area. And not one of those art pieces has been damaged.” (Students in Kenosha County’s Youth Employment in the Arts Program recently painted a mural, the latest in a series that hang in the hallways of the Kenosha County Job Center.)

Besides crafting murals, Jabbari “paints” on buildings using light. He calls his light show “The City is Your Canvas,” and he creates images on buildings using light.

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“The canvas is like a sandstorm; when people move through the light, the canvas moves,” he said.

“It would be wonderful if Kenosha had a light festival,” he added. “In Montreal, the light festival brings people out in the dark of winter.”

Siel, whose district includes the downtown area that has been covered with boards protecting businesses since the rioting in late August, said “It’s great to see something bright and bold that is not on plywood.”

What’s next

Brown and Jabbari envision more murals in Kenosha and, they hope, an event that brings in several artists, like the recent mural festival in downtown Janesville. For now, Jabbari will paint a mural on the north side of Kenosha Creative Space.

As an artist, Brown views everything around her as a potential canvas — even an outdoor basketball court she hopes to paint.

“We have our eyes on a couple more buildings,” she said. “A lot of it depends on the weather staying good for outdoor painting.”

The Kenosha Creative Space mural, which took about six days to complete, “is my gift to the city,” Brown said. “Kenosha isn’t known as a street art city, but maybe this will start it. It’s nice to have a piece of me here.”

Brown is also hoping public art projects can help “flip the switch on the negative look Kenosha now has in the national media. That’s not our community.”

Francisco Loyola, executive director of Creative Space, and Joe Potente, a Creative Space board of directors member, are also hoping this mural can be a spark that leads to more such projects.

“We are working out the details,” Loyola said. “Stay tuned.”

Potente pointed out that the wall was, for years, hidden by a since-torn-down parking structure.

“It brightens up the downtown,” he said, “and I hope it will be here for a long time.”

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