We believe public art has the power to stimulate dialogue, foster healing, and inspire change.

Who We Are: Our Story

It all started with a wish upon a moon. Well, maybe not exactly. After more than 20 years of supporting Milwaukee’s arts & culture scene thru MOD GEN, a retail business in the heart of Milwaukee, co-founders Deb Kern and Doug McDonald saw their community support growing and taking on a life of its own. The duo recognized an opportunity to build upon the city’s vibrant arts scene and expand opportunities for free and accessible public art programming. As Milwaukee enthusiasts and art-lovers, they wanted to help the city’s creative community shine — and inspire more meaningful connections along the way.

Joy Engine Co Founders

JOY ENGINE (formerly known as Black Box Fund) was launched in 2019 with a three-day creative extravaganza Under One Moon, kicking off the collective’s ambitions and they’ve been spreading joy and wonder through public art ever since

Bringing public art to life. Today, we partner with local and international artists to create inclusive arts experiences that reflect the diversity of Milwaukee and are welcoming, family-friendly, and free to all.

Meet Our Team

Doug McDonald

Doug McDonald

President and Co-Founder

Steph

Steph Salvia

Executive Director

Monique

Monique Charlier

Board Member

Ian Abston

Ian Abston

Board Member

Margaret

Margaret Czaplewski

Board Member

Jacobo Lovo

Board Member

2023
Nitelight

Joy Engine Presents: Nitelight was Milwaukee's first-ever, outdoor immersive arts and lights festival experience - extending summer for one more breathtaking moment. The dazzling live spectacle, held during the last gasp of summer on the evenings of Sept 8-9, 2023, brought 4D projection mapping technology to Milwaukee's iconic Historic Mitchell Street Neighborhood. The multi-story building at 710 W. Historic Mitchell Street - home to Mitchell Street Arts - served as the mesmerizing backdrop for the show.

Learn more

2023
Community Challenge Grants: Year 2

Joy Engine launched their 2024 Community Challenge Grants, awarding over $5,000 to local artist organizations for the second year in a row. Join us in congratulating our winners, who will bring their projects to life throughout 2024: Historic King Drive BID No. 8 & True Skool, The Middle Ground, Historic District Inc. BID No. 51, Cosecha Creative Space, Milwaukee Makers Market, Throw with the Flow, YMAA Tai Chi Ch'uan of Wisconsin, and Lion's Tooth.

Click here to read about their projects.

Summer 2022
Community Challenge Grants: Year 1

Joy Engine awarded $50,000 in grants to six artists and organizations to fuel creative expressions of joy within the diverse Milwaukee community. Congratulations to our grant recipients: BloomMKE Inc., La Familia de Arte, Homeworks: Bronzeville SPLASH!, Riverwest Radio, Gothic Milwaukee, and Out There Series. 

Click here to read about their projects.

Spring 2022
Jazz Rocks

Joy Engine partnered with Arts@Large, a local organization committed to providing equitable access to educational experiences that include the arts, to bring to life Jazz Rocks – a live, educational performance series featuring original compositions and free-flowing jazz improvisation from MKE artists that was open to all.

Through Jazz Rocks, a segment of Arts@Large and Joy Engine’s Music Under the Stars series, local Jazz Guitarist, Don Linke, brought together some of Milwaukee’s finest musicians to treat audiences to dazzling jazz and an education on the inner workings of improvised music. The artists shared the secrets of their craft, giving insight into the amazing music scene interwoven into the fabric of our community.

2022
Mary L. Nohl Fellowship

The fellowship program provides unrestricted funds for Established and Emerging artists to create new work or complete work in progress, open to artists within a four-county area (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington). One hundred and eleven fellowships have been awarded since the program began in 2003 and has become one of the most generous regional fellowships for individual artists in the State. 

Summer 2021
Cracking Art Donation

Black Box Fund donated two pink “Cracking Art” birds as a permanent installation for Milwaukee’s downtown, located just outside of the Milwaukee Public Market. 

Summer 2021
Out of the Box

A six-week summer pop-up art installation at Lakeshore State Park consisting of 22 plastic birds from “Cracking Art. The artworks were designed to inspire a community-wide conversation about the effect of plastics on the natural environment and to bring community together in an underutilized and unexpected space.  The series was packed with family-friendly performances, workshops, walking & learning tours by partnering with over 85 local nonprofits, artists, musicians and other performance groups

Watch video

Fall 2020
“Voting Rights are Human Rights” Mural

Sculpture Milwaukee has been transforming downtown Milwaukee’s cultural landscape every year since 2017 with an outdoor exhibition of world-renowned sculpture on Wisconsin Avenue. In 2020, with Black Box Fund’s partnership, the exhibit was expanded to include the Historic Third Ward. Sculpture Milwaukee is an annual attraction for art lovers, tourists and families to the heart of downtown Milwaukee every Summer.  

2020
Imagine Milwaukee Artist Relief Fund

In March 2020, we partnered with Imagine MKE when they launched the MKE Artist Relief Fund to help Milwaukee’s artists and creatives displaced from jobs, gigs, and exhibitions due to the public health response to COVID-19. Together we were able to support 423 individuals with $500 grants that provided immediate, much-needed support before federal assistance programs were implemented. 

2020
Skylight Theater Pandemic Support

The Skylight Theater was founded in 1959 with the mission to bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. When the pandemic shut their doors and programming canceled, Black Box Fund was able to help support operational costs to make sure that the theater would be able to return stronger than ever upon reopening. 

Spring 2020
Sculpture Milwaukee Expansion

Sculpture Milwaukee has been transforming downtown Milwaukee’s cultural landscape every year since 2017 with an outdoor exhibition of world-renowned sculpture on Wisconsin Avenue. In 2020, with Black Box Fund’s partnership, the exhibit was expanded to include the Historic Third Ward. Sculpture Milwaukee is an annual attraction for art lovers, tourists and families to the heart of downtown Milwaukee every Summer.  

Spring 2020
Art Page

Art Page featured coloring book drawings by six local artists printed in the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The whimsical, interactive pages brought a much-needed free art experience to families at a complex time for our community. The pages were a reminder that even through tumultuous times we could still share a smile—thanks to the power of art. 

Spring 2020
My Art Bag

Black Box Fund and Arts @ Large collaborated to create and distribute free project kits for children in Milwaukee during the 2020 pandemic. This series of six different bags for children ages 3 to 13 contained an age-appropriate book, variety of art supplies, and art curriculum specifically tied to the book. 

Spring 2020
Vote414

VOTE414 was an initiative open to Milwaukee County artists to inspire residents to get to the polls on Nov. 3. Local artists created “Get Out and Vote” messaging to be displayed on billboards, yard signs and in local newspapers. The award winners received a $1,000 award for their work. The winners included Bolanle Awosika, Pavonis Giron and Francesca Simonite.

Fall 2019 (October)
Historic Third Ward Murals

Talented Milwaukee artists Fred Kaems, Nova Czarnecki, Ben Talatzko, and Emma Daisy were commissioned to create 6’ x 8’ paintings to hang on exterior building walls in the Third Ward. (Do you want to tell how those artists were chosen?)

Summer 2019 (August)
Under One Moon

Luke Jerram’s Museum of the Moon, an inflatable installation artwork, was exhibited in the Historic Third Ward at Catalano Square Park. The 23’ moon hung suspended for one weekend in August drawing several thousand people. The space was programmed with local dance groups, music, and interactive programs to celebrate all things “lunar” in commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the lunar landing. 

Watch video

Summer 2019
1500 Bottles a Second

The 10-foot sculpture was created with 1,500 used plastic items found during a recent river cleanup event.  This project challenged students, ages 4 to 18 to think critically and creatively about the impact of plastics in our world. The sculpture was created by students from University School of Milwaukee, USM teachers Christina Dresang, Marja Konkol, Sarah Markwald, Jessica Michels, Rebecca Steinbach, and Priscilla Woods, and environmental artist Melanie Ariens. 

Summer 2019
Jazz At Noon

Inspired by Les Lieber’s fabled New York Jazz at Noon, Black Box Fund brings you Milwaukee’s version of free lunch time Jazz performances every Monday at noon. 

May 2019
Founded

70% of Americans believe that the “arts improve the image and identity of their community.” (Americans Speak Out About the Arts)

Why Public Art?

Culturally-rooted arts experiences allow us to explore identity, place, and belonging. At JOY ENGINE, we champion using public art as an “engine” to break barriers, spark meaningful human connections, and create equitable access and belonging within Milwaukee’s arts & culture community.

At JOY ENGINE, we believe public art is a reflection of our world. Public art is a tool to nurture our neighbors and enhance a sense of community identity. And since public art is also freely accessible, people from every neighborhood and corner of the city can enjoy it and feel inspired. 

Get Ready for Unforgettable Public Art Events in Milwaukee.

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Our partnership program supports unique artistic projects across a diverse spectrum of artistic disciplines and cultural expressions.