Invisible Work - In Visible Earth - CODAworx

Invisible Work – In Visible Earth

Submitted by Jenie Gao Studio

Client: The City of Middleton

Location: Middleton, WI, United States

Completion date: 2020

Artwork budget: $60,000

Project Team

Rhea Ewing

Dane Arts Mural Arts


Invisible work in deep-rooted community.

A project with Dane Arts Mural Arts, the Middleton Salt mural tells the story of what makes Middleton beautiful, and what defines us as good neighbors. It recognizes the invisible work that goes into making a neighborhood great: from the people who maintain Middleton’s roads, high quality water systems, and award-winning parks to Middleton’s commitment to prairie conservation and renewable energy. This invisible work is like deep roots in a deep-rooted community.

Artists Jenie Gao and Rhea Ewing started the community mural process in 2018 with interviews of community members and workers at Middleton Operations Center and experts in local prairie and soil ecology. Students at Clark Street Community School and Middleton Youth Center helped to paint this mural with the Dane Arts Mural Arts team.

Thank you to DAMA, Middleton, the students, Rhea, and all the community members Rhea and I interviewed to get to know Middleton better in the design process. Thank you to our sponsors, American Girl Fund, Middleton Arts Committee, Julann Jatczak/Mike Davis, Meg Pekarske Feb, Ron & Sheila Endres, Lea and Rob Con


Since this mural is on a corner of a building that dips into a valley, we played the building’s shape to our advantage with the design. The mural shows a cutaway section of the earth, revealing the deep plant roots that create channels for groundwater to collect and biodiversity to thrive. We met with a soil scientist, who described healthy soil as a rainbow of rich colors. We depicted an assortment of flora and fauna, including two purple martins as a nod to acts of stewardship. Finally, two human figures look into the distance, to represent the responsibility we have in continuing the work of environmental justice.


When the City of Middleton commissioned me to create a mural for the Middleton Recycling and Operations Center that embodies the city’s ideals of neighborhood and environmental stewardship, my co-designer, Rhea Ewing, and I interviewed many staff members -- those who maintain the city’s streets, parks, and water infrastructure, and who study the environment and local ecosystems. We asked them, “What do you want people to know or appreciate about your city?”

People responded that the invisible work that goes into keeping streets clear, parks beautiful, and water clean creates an environment where people want to participate in their communities. They shared how Middleton still has 20% of its original tallgrass prairie whose roots feed into Middleton’s high quality groundwater. They shared how different city employees have their own stewardship projects like maintaining housing for purple martin colonies. This was the invisible work that we wanted to make visible for Middleton’s deep-rooted community.

Additional Information

As a social practice artist and arts consultant, I have been on the front and back ends of developing strong, community-engaged public artworks. I am experienced in installation methods on various wall surfaces and use methods to create murals that will last for 30+ years with simple maintenance. The 2000 square foot mural was an exciting challenge and the result beautifies the building for all in the community to enjoy.