By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 22, 2020 at 2:47 PM

East Siders pitched the idea of using the city parking lot on East North Avenue between Von Trier and Beans & Barley as a place for additional outdoor dining space for area restaurants and now the idea is moving toward reality.

On Wednesday, the East Side Business Improvement District (BID) officially announced the East Side Art Lot at 1915 E. North Ave.

The BID has received a $1,000 grant from the AARP’s Small Dollar Big Impact fund to purchase 10 picnic tables that will be used at the site from Aug. 21 until Nov. 15.

Now, the BID is seeking artists to paint the tables, which will offer seating to diners who carry out food from nearby restaurants.

A call for artists, open through noon on Aug. 6, has been posted to the BID’s website. Details for submissions can be found here.

A GoFundMe campaign to raise $6,500 has been launched. So far, $100 has been raised, but the campaign just launched today.

The bulk of the $6,500 will be used to pay local artists for their work ($5,000), with $700 planned for trash collection, $650 art supplies and $150 for signage at the lot.

According to a press release, "If additional funds are raised, they will go to further beautify the East Side Art Lot with plants, more local art around the tables, and programming."

"We know increased outdoor seating is a key to helping restaurants, an already low-margin business, get through this pandemic," said East Side BID Executive Director Liz Brodek, in a statement. "And customers feel safer in open-air environments. This lot is in great proximity to over a dozen restaurants, so is really accessible for anyone looking for a spot to eat.

"As we talked with area business owners, the idea really grew. Businesses stepped forward wanting to do light programming if we could make this happen. We also saw an opportunity to pay local artists to help make the space feel more vibrant. The East Side Art Lot will bring together our local community, local artists, and local restaurants and shops that make the East Side so special."

One of the local business owners supporting the project is The Waxwing’s Steph Davies, who said, "I’m so lucky to have my business be a part of a business district that really cares about supporting all of us through this pandemic.

"It has been inspiring to see The East Side BID come up with innovative ways to drive traffic, support our customers and remind people that even though our business models are changing practically daily, we’re still here! I’m excited to see the Art Lot take shape and create a community space that unites artists and the local businesses on the East Side."

East Siders of "a certain age" may recall that the western part of the site was once home to a small circular building with public restrooms. It’s nice to see the site again re-adapted to fit the needs of the neighborhood and the times, and the work of local artists will serve as a nice tie with the nearby Black Cat Alley.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.