Build Your Adventure
Local artist completes mural at skate park

July 2, 2023

Madeline Westberg

Antigo Daily Journal

Pictured above is Emily Ann Popelka, an Antigo artist, posing with the mural she painted at the Antigo Optimist Skate Park this monthThe skate park in Antigo has a new pop of color these days, thanks to an Antigo artist and a local visual arts group.

The Antigo Optimist Skate Park, at 1011 First Ave., now features a mural on one of the skate ramps. The mural is in the street art graffiti style, created with spray paint and tagging the phrase “Antigo Pride.”

The mural was painted by Antigo artist Emily Ann Popelka, and was organized by Antigo Visual Arts, a nonprofit in the area that creates gallery opportunities, public art pieces and community for local artists.

The mural is now completed at the skate park, painted in June, after it worked through the city approval process.

The artist, Popelka, is an Antigo resident and a White Lake High School graduate. She’s an accomplished longtime artist who has developed her skills for many years, and participated in several area art shows, public art projects and more.

However, this was her first time taking on the style of graffiti painting.

“I’ve never done graffiti,” Popelka said. “I didn’t get a chance in high school. I like graffiti but I never thought I could do it.”

“I was actually scared at first, this was all new to me,” she added.

Popelka called the skate park a good environment for a mural, especially in the graffiti style. It “creates good energy,” she said, adding color and style to the area.

The skate park includes ramps, rails and boxes for skateboarders and rollerbladers to practice on. The city is also adding several bike features to the park, for cyclists to ride on.

Popelka took on the task by doing significant research, watching videos online, learning different spray paint techniques, and mocking up the mural several times on paper.

“She’s a really amazing artist,” said Danna Gabriel, an organizer with Antigo Visual Arts. “She can come up with stuff really fast.”

Popelka began “developing my art when I was a little kid,” she said, encouraged by her teachers who noticed her talent. She is mainly interested in drawing and painting.

Popelka has participated in several art shows and art projects locally, including submitting work to the Wisconsin Regional Art Program shows, and earning Artist Choice award in the fall Antigo Visual Arts gallery. Her next project will be entering the Antigo fair with several pieces.

She hopes she gets to try the art form of graffiti again in the future, “as long as it’s legal,” she added.

Antigo Visual Arts helped make the mural possible, working through the city approval process, and working with Popelka to create the mural. Spray paint for the project was donated by Northwoods Painting.

Antigo Visual Arts is a nonprofit that hosts art galleries, public art projects and creates opportunities for talented artists in the Antigo area. The group has helped execute two previous murals in downtown Antigo, created several pieces of bottle cap collage art at the Antigo Public Library and other places around town, and even created a bottle-cap prom dress, which a student wore to an Antigo High School prom.

The group also offers four judged art shows with cash prizes each year, with work displayed at the Langlade County Historical Society Museum.

The group has been active since 2011, Gabriel said, and began as a small display at the historical society museum. In 2019, AVA began prioritizing public art and community involvement.

Public murals have been funded with city help, grants obtained by AVA and volunteer donations of time from area artists.

Antigo Visual Arts hopes to highlight the talented residents of the area, like Popelka, and create opportunities to display their work.

“How you express yourself is whatever way you want to express yourself,” Popelka said.

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