2023 Joy Engine Community Challenge

Whether it be a mural, mosaic, music, poetry, or dance; creative expression comes in many forms. We’re challenging neighborhoods to discover and creatively express what JOY means to their community.

The Joy Engine Community Challenge provides small grants to fuel creative expressions of joy within our diverse Milwaukee community. Applications are accepted for projects to improve public spaces and civic engagement, support diversity, equity and inclusion; and pursue innovative ideas that support your neighborhood.


Your project must: 
  • Take place in the neighborhood in which you live or work 
  • Be publicly accessible without admission or entrance fees 
  • Include documentation both during the process and of your completed project (i.e. photos and/or video, written materials, flyers) 
  • Be in the City of Milwaukee

This application is open to the following:
  • Artists working in visual, performing arts or creative placemaking (individuals must partner with a lead organization)
  • Students, student organizations (if under 18 must partner with a
    lead organizer or your school) 
  • Government entities, neighborhood associations or neighborhood improvement districts, schools, cultural centers, community organizations  
  • 501(C)(3), 501(C)(4), and 501(C)(6) nonprofits 
  • Other types of artists and organizations will be considered on a
    case-by-case basis
The following projects are NOT eligible for funding:
  • Partisan, political or election-related activities 
  • Planning activities and assessments and surveys of communities without tangible engagement
  • Studies with no follow-up action
  • Publication of books or reports
  • Acquisition of land and/or buildings or a vehicle purchase
  • Sponsorship of other organizations’ events or activities
  • Research and development for a nonprofit endeavor
  • Research and development for a for-profit endeavor
  • The promotion of a for-profit entity and/or its products and services


Project Framework: 

Joy Engine is looking for projects that engage the arts, are inclusive, mobilize volunteers, and aim to create JOY in your community. We encourage applicants to creatively explore ideas that improve open spaces or design innovative and tangible projects that increase neighborhood pride and facilitate a greater sense of inclusion.

Project Types:

Joy Engine Community Challenge can be used for:

  • Permanent physical improvements in the community
  • Temporary demonstrations, art installations and performances
  • New, innovative programming, events or services

The project types described above will be prioritized over those that support ongoing programming or events.


Grant Amount:

Five Grants with a maximum of $10,000 each will be awarded.

Applicants who receive one year of funding may be eligible for additional grant dollars for year two, however, there is a match requirement with a separate application process. Please email Steph at steph@joyengine.org for information.

Applicants can apply for the same grant two years in a row but must take the third year off.


Grant Selection Process:

Assessment Criteria:

  • Inspirational (50 points): The project reflects what represents JOY to you and your community.
  • Execution (30 points): Applicants demonstrate the capacity to deliver the JOY project on time and within the awarded budget, effectively engaging residents and key stakeholders and leveraging volunteers in the execution.
  • Inventive (20 points): The project demonstrates creativity, unique design or engagement elements that will contribute to its impact on community.

Application & Notification

Application Requirements:
  • Applicants must meet the eligibility requirements.
  • The deadline for applications is Wednesday, November 1, 2023.
  • No late or incomplete applications will be accepted.


Grant recipients and unselected applicants will be notified by email no later than November 20, 2023. Grantees must execute and email a binding Memorandum of Understanding after acceptance. If chosen, your project must be completed by December 31, 2024. Noncompliance with this deadline may result in disqualification or delayed funding.

*If your project is located within a public space, Joy Engine will facilitate the connection between the applicants and the City of Milwaukee for any permits and/or liability insurance required.

Submission Terms & Conditions

If you submit this application, you agree on behalf of yourself and your organization to release Joy Engine Inc and its affiliates and their respective officers, directors, employees, contractors, agents and representatives from all liability associated with sharing the Project Information with potential funders. 

By applying to Joy Engine, the applicant agrees that: 

  • The decisions of Joy Engine regarding the eligibility of applicants and the validity of entries shall be final and binding.
  • All submissions will be judged by Joy Engine, whose decisions and determinations as to the administration of the award and selection of award recipients are final.
  • Joy Engine has the right, in its sole discretion, to cancel, or suspend the award.
  • All projects and applications shall not violate any third-party rights.
  • Except where prohibited by law, participation in the Joy Engine Community Challenge constitutes the Applicant’s consent to Joy Engine’s use of the organization’s or artist’s name(s), logos, city, state, zip code, county, and names, likenesses, photographs, videos, images, and statements made or provided by the Applicant’s representatives regarding the award for promotional purposes in any media without further permission, consent, payment or other consideration.
  • All promotional materials (such as newsletters, press releases), events and signage related to the funded project will include a statement indicating that support was received from Joy Engine.
  • The grantee is required to capture photos of the project and is encouraged to capture video. As the grantee captures photos and video of the project, if an identifiable individual appears in the photos and/or videos, the grantee is responsible for having him/her sign the Joy Engine General Release (this document will be provided to grantees with the MOU and other required paperwork). In addition, the grantee should not include any element in photos or videos provided to Joy Engine that may violate third party rights such as artwork and trademarks in text and logo other than those owned by the organization and Joy Engine. The organization should be prepared to send work in progress photos to Joy Engine upon request. Following the grant period, grantees are required to respond to periodic requests for updates from Joy Engine.
  • Joy Engine and its affiliated organizations, subsidiaries, agents and employees are not responsible for late, lost, illegible, incomplete, stolen, misdirected, illegitimate, or impermissible submissions or any other error whether human, mechanical or electronic.
  • Applicant understands that there is no guarantee that proper permitting will be issued if the project is taking place in a public space, however, Joy Engine will work to facilitate that process.


Questions? Please email communitychallenge@joyengine.org.

Congratulations to our 2022 Grant Recipients!


BloomMke Inc. – an organization focused on promoting enrichment for residents of low-income housing in Milwaukee using community gardens as resources for engagement, education, and relationship building.  BloomMKE will be engaging gardeners from the Cherry Street Gardens, residents of Cherry Creek Apartments, youth from the Kellogg-PEAK Initiative and students from UWM, MSOE and MIAD to design four new accessible garden beds. They will also be installing peace poles, a mural, artistic benches, and artwork for a remembrance garden. Additionally, students from UWM under the direction of Arijit Sen, will be conducting an immersive public history field school at the garden, hosting events around storytelling and art.

La Familia de Arte – a grassroots nonprofit organization dedicated to using public art to help the community thrive by spreading hope, beauty, and love in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods. A group of ceramic artists who live and work in the Clarke Square are just north of Muskego Way will design and install five tiled concrete bollards. The bollards will offer not only a beautiful point of art on the hill just north of Mitchell Street but will also serve as a safety barrier since vehicles have been driving up the sidewalk and grass hill as a “short cut” to S. 24th street. The neighbors of Muskego Way will be invited to inscribe the tiles, sharing what gives them joy. Messages will be inscribed in both English and Spanish, aimed at nurturing joy and hope.

Homeworks: Bronzeville SPLASH! – a cultural development initiative that supports growth and activity in the community. SPLASH! Is a community-based, variety show that explores culture in Milwaukee. Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, creative curator and lead artist, will produce a series of workshops that will lead up to an interactive community art-making game show, SPLASH! The workshops engage artists and youth interns in the planning and execution of a multifaceted production. The variety show format is grounded in joy, filling participants with warm nostalgia and laughter. The entire process is also documented via video. Community members can volunteer to become contestants on the game show while students from nearby Jazale’s Art Studio and hundreds of others can also lend a hand in creating the final abstract painting that will be displayed in the Bronzeville neighborhood.

Riverwest Radio – whose mission is to provide a community platform for education, advocacy, and creativity through podcasting and radio.  Riverwest Radio has partnered with their business neighbor, the Daily Bird Café, to reclaim their shared alley, an often overlooked space. It will be developed into The Alleyway Studio: to host music, poetry, art, radio, comedy, round-table discussions, educational programming and more! The use of banners, tapestries, lighting and thoughtfully constructed seating will bring a fresh new sense of communal space to the heart of Riverwest. All of the events that occur in The Alleyway Studio will be broadcast on 104.1FM, live-streamed and archived online.

Gothic Milwaukee – a historical attraction led by author and creator of the Walking Milwaukee self-guided tour, Anna Lardinois. Anna is a writer who lives on the East Side and is interested in bringing the past alive while creating a new entertaining way for Milwaukee to explore their neighborhood. A history and architecture based program will be created, complete with a GPS based audio walking tour of the lower East Side. The walk will be available on the VoiceMap app which can be downloaded for free. A full printable tour will also be available online for those who wish to access it that way. Anna feels that those who learn more about their neighborhood will feel more connected and joyful and likely feel increased pride in the place that they call home. 

Out There Series – an organization that creates intimate, outdoor music performances in the Riverwest, Washington Park, and South Side neighborhoods.  This series was born from friends and community music organizers, Elise McArdle and John Larkin. The two recognized that there is an amazing amount of musical talent in Milwaukee however there are so many that go unnoticed. The local festivals often book larger well-known local musicians who can boost attendance at alcohol-laden events. The Out There Series creates thoughtful outdoor shows in harmony with their natural environment, free from alcohol. The events bring joy from the harmony of art with nature and a focus on deep listening to the performers, including musicians and poets.

Completed Community Challenge Projects

Congratulations to our Community Challenge Grant Recipients for spreading joy in their communities through their incredible, completed projects!

Gothic Milwaukee: Brady Street and Lower Eastside Walking Tour

Gothic Milwaukee created a self-guided, GPS-based audio tour of Brady Street and the Lower Eastside in celebration of Milwaukee on 414 Day (April 14, 2023). The 2.8-mile tour, which gives a glimpse into the past while highlighting the history and architecture of the Brady Street neighborhood, was created by Anna Lardinois, Milwaukee author and Gothic Milwaukee Founder.

The tour covers an easy stroll through Historic Brady Street, loops through Cass Street, follows along the former Gold Coast and ends at the Oak Leaf Trail Head on Prospect Avenue, featuring favorite MKE staples including:

  • St. Hedwig
  • All Saints Catholic Church
  • Peter Scortino Bakery
  • Glorioso’s Italian Market
  • St. Rita
  • Cass Park
  • The Laverne and Shirley House
  • The Laura and George Peckham Miller House
  • Jewish Museum Milwaukee
  • The Mexican Consultate
  • And more!

We’re proud that our Community Challenge Grant has allowed Gothic Milwaukee to make this tour FREE for the public to enjoy for a year! To access the tour:

1. Download the free VoiceMap app from the App Store.
2. Create a free account.
3. Select the “Brady Street and Milwaukee’s Lower Eastside” tour.
4. Head to the corner of Brady and Cambridge Streets to start the tour, which can be completed at your own pace.

Out There Series: Outdoor Summer Music Shows

Out There Series, Milwaukee’s experimental performance series curating strange sounds in unique places, developed a series of free, live musical performances for all ages that took place in Milwaukee’s outdoor spaces this summer.

The performances featured a variety of genres and sounds including soft R&B, jazz, ambient and experimental music, and even a professional marimba player, allowing attendees to experience exciting, “out there” types of music, sound combinations, or artists they wouldn’t normally hear. Some of the artists are local, and others are from around the Midwest.

RiverWestRadio: Alleyway Studio Series

RiverWestRadio, which provides a community platform for education, advocacy, and creativity and an outlet for marginalized and alternative voices, has used their grant to create an Alleyway Studio Series that will run monthly this summer.

Each event starts with a Chalk ‘n’ Talk, where community members can create art in the alley at 816 E Center Street, followed by a live alleyway performance such as music, theater, comedy, poetry, or a lecture.

Alleyway Studio Series Schedule:

Saturday, September 30 | 11 AM – 7 PM

BloomMKE: Cherry Street Garden Art Walk

BloomMKE, an organization promoting community enrichment for residents of low-income and public housing in Milwaukee by using community gardens as resources for engagement, education, and relationship building, has used their Community Challenge grant to create a new Art Walk at Cherry Street Community Garden located at 1431 N. 23rd Street.

The art walk features a self-guided tour of the garden, highlighting more than a dozen pieces of original art, sculpture, and a centerpiece mural created by students at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) School of Architecture and Urban Studies.

Visit the garden any time to enjoy the self-guided tour.

La Familia de Arte: Community Mosaic Celebration

La Familia de Arte, a grassroots organization dedicated to creating meaningful change in the Milwaukee area through collaborative, community-based projects and public artwork for all, has created five tiled, concrete bollards on the hill just north of Mitchell Street. The bollards, which are decorated with tiles inscribed by the neighbors of Muskego Way with words about what brings them joy, serve as a beautiful point of art and also as a safety barrier.

Homeworks: Bronzeville, a cultural development initiative that supports growth and activity in the community, created SPLASH!, a community-based variety show that explores culture in Milwaukee. The artmaking gameshow welcomed the community to come participate as contestants, paint with water balloons, dance to music by KLASSIK. The entire process was documented via video.

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