Members of the local Native American community sit in front of the downtown Janesville mural created by artist Jeff Henriquez depicting Sauk tribal leader Black Hawk. Henriquez will be among several artists helping create a series of other murals downtown during this year’s Art Infusion event.

JANESVILLE—Art doesn’t have to be large to be impactful, but when one piece covers the entire side of a three-story downtown building, people tend to take notice.

Last summer, artist Jeff Henriquez spent 10 days creating a vibrant, larger-than-life mural depicting Sauk tribal leader Black Hawk on an exposed brick wall just off South Main Street.

As the process unfolded, many visitors came by to watch the piece take shape. Once completed, nearly 200 people—including members of the local Native American community—gathered on a weekday afternoon to celebrate.

In the year since its official unveiling, the stunning work has proved to be more than just a visual showpiece to help uplift the city’s still-evolving center. It also has created an enhanced sense of community and civic ownership in those entranced by its beauty.

“We saw how transformative it was, not just for the buildings but for the spirit and feel of downtown,” said Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, which organizes the city’s annual Art Infusion. “There are always people coming up to it, taking pictures. It causes people to slow down and become engaged.”

Motivated in part by the positive reaction to Black Hawk, organizers of this year’s Art Infusion—set for Aug. 30-Sept. 6—have commissioned five new mural projects to be created during the event. The group is working with Wallpapered City, a Milwaukee company that specializes in painted mural art events.

Nigella Ryan, who is co-chairing this year’s event with Rebout, commissioned the work on Black Hawk last year. Her hope is that the new additions will make downtown more inviting for residents and visitors.

“The locations we’ve chosen will help get people downtown,” she said. “Some of the sites are just so ugly, and they need life brought back into them.

“The main thing is it creates a welcoming environment and makes downtown a place where people want to spend time, meet their friends, eat in restaurants, shop in shops, and just be.”

Locations for the new murals include:

  • The north wall of 101 E. Milwaukee St., which faces The Looking Glass tavern. Henriquez is returning to create this mural.
  • A 15-foot-by-15-foot space on the east wall former Janesville Post Office, 210 Dodge St.
  • Twin 9-foot-by-7-foot spaces on the south side Fredendall Building at the corner of South Main and Court streets.
  • A 10-foot-by-13-foot space on the south wall of the Lark building, 60 S. Main St.
  • A fifth location has yet to be determined.

In addition to the murals, Art Infusion will continue its tradition of hosting a master chalk artist and a chalk art competition.

Lee Jones, a master chalk artist who has taken part in Art Infusion for the past several years, won’t be in attendance this year due to COVID-19-related travel concerns. She will, however, be hosting virtual classes from her Florida home as part of the event.

Taking Jones’ place onsite this year will be Stacey Williams-Ng of Wallpapered City.

Another change involves location. Formerly contained to Firehouse Park downtown, chalk drawings will spread throughout the city to locations such as Traxler Park, Rotary Botanical Gardens, the Janesville Performing Arts Center and more.