The Bus Art Project MKE

Big, Giant Hugs Milwaukee

Who doesn’t need a hug now and then? A few years back, I started signing off my social media posts with the phrase, “Big, Giant Hugs.” It was a fun way to reach out to my friends and give them a virtual hug from the Big Friendly Giant. It caught on and people liked it, they commented back that they were looking forward to receiving one of my big, giant hugs in person.

What started as a simple and goofy thing, stuck with me as I looked at other parts of my life. It’s often the simple, small gestures that can have the greatest impact. A kind word, a funny comment, a warm smile…these seemingly inconsequential gestures can turn around a person’s day. So can a big, giant hug!

The bus shelter at 1st and National in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.

The bus shelter at 1st and National in Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.

Taking a saying to the next level…

This spring, l learned about a call for entries for the Bus Shelter Art Project MKE. I immediately knew that I wanted to submit one of my own, and I had a pretty good idea what it would be.

I wanted the design to be as simple, yet impactful as the message itself. Something bold, bright, and undeniably full of cheer. I decided to go with a contemporary design that reminded me of growing up in the 80s, a time of innocence and joy, riding my Big Wheel up and down the block without a care in the world. A time when we gave our hugs freely to our Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, and human friends alike.

The 80s were an inspiration for the design of “Big, Giant Hugs.”

The 80s were an inspiration for the design of “Big, Giant Hugs.”

Putting art out into the world, you lose control over the message…and that’s fantastic!

When I set out to create “Big, Giant Hugs,” my intention was purely to put a positive and joyful message out into our community. Ironically, I had no intentions of tying my design to LGTBQ Pride. I say ironically, because as a proud, married gay man…it honestly never crossed my mind!

However, when my piece was selected to be a part of the bus art project, it was scheduled to be installed in Walker’s Point during Milwaukee Pridefest weekend. Walker’s Point is the home to the majority of the city’s gay bars, a neighborhood where I worked for eight amazing years as a bartender at Fluid.

Furthermore, 2019 is the year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots – which took place in New York City in June 1969 marking the beginning of the gay rights movement. The rainbow became the symbol of gay pride nine years later when San Francisco artist, Gilbert Baker, designed the first rainbow flag in 1978.

The location and timing of the installation, gave a potential added meaning to “Big, Giant Hugs.”


Artist’s Statement:

I've made it a personal mission to put out as much love and positivity into the world as I can. As a happy-go-lucky guy who stands at six foot, eight inches tall, friends and family often call me the “Big Friendly Giant.” Many years ago, I started signing my posts on social media with “Big, Giant Hugs” and it took off.

For this project, I wanted to create a piece that would simply make people smile when they saw it. Maybe they'll feel the warmth of a big hug from the giant heart of our city and pass along that love to someone else that day.

I am beyond honored that this fun message of positivity has been chosen to be displayed in a neighborhood where I have personally experienced the love and support of our LGBTQ community.

I love our city, and this is a way for me to give one of my big, giant hugs to all of Milwaukee!

Sample “big, giant hugs” posts from Instagram:

At the end of the day, it’s about making an impact by adding something positive to our community.

My husband Mike and myself celebrating the installment of “Big, Giant Hugs!”

My husband Mike and myself celebrating the installment of “Big, Giant Hugs!”

A sticker on the bus shelter giving context to the project.

A sticker on the bus shelter giving context to the project.

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Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter what my intentions were for this piece. For those of us who know the history – who have personally fought for the rights we enjoy today – there might be an added layer of meaning when we see it. For someone else it might bring up a personal memory from their childhood. For others, it might just be that original intention of making people happy and simply adding a little joy to our great city. Are any of these wrong? I certainly don’t think so!

Big, giant hugs to you!

Big, Giant Hugs is installed at 1st and National in Walker’s Point. Share your big, giant hugs pictures with #biggianthugs!


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About the Bus Shelter Art Project

The Bus Shelter Art Project is a collaboration between the Milwaukee County Transit System and The Bus Art Project MKE to spread art across the community. The Bus Art Project MKE works with local artists and raises money to pay for the production and installation of the art, then MCTS provides the space. In 2018, seven original pieces of art were produced and installed in bus shelters, eight more will be installed in 2019.

Follow the Bus Shelter Art Project on Instagram (@thebustartprojectmke) to see the rest of the installations scheduled for this summer!