Thursday, March 5, 2009

Milwaukee Cultural Alliance/MARN listening session 2

On March 3rd we hosted the second listening session between the Milwaukee Cultural Alliance and MARN. This report is well too lengthy for a blog post, but to give everybody a full scope of the discussion that took place on Tuesday night, there’s no way to trim it. I am just pretty much trying to give you minutes of the meeting, but I must admit that there were a few moments in which I couldn’t resist and inserted my own comments as well. A few personal thoughts on the cultural planning process(es) will follow soon.

Christine Harris extended her thanks to Gary Tuma of WPCA for hosting the event and welcomed Melissa Musante, the new Executive Director of MARN (with whom she already has a working relationship). The meeting was not well attended: aside of Gary and myself on the side of WPCA, Christine and Denise Lubotsky of the Cultural Alliance, and Melissa representing MARN, there were only three people present: Shirah Apple, Thea Kovac and Jeff Holub. Even though most of the time Christine reported to the group, the meeting definitely had informal tone to it. If you weren’t here, not only did you miss Christine’s report, but also a very energizing dance performance.
I wonder whether poor attendance says anything about people’s feelings after the first listening session that took place in late January. Is it just the mater of time and effort, or do people feel like their voices wouldn’t be heard anyways? Is anyone willing to comment on this?

Milwaukee Cultural Alliance’s report:
According to Christine, as of recently, the role of Milwaukee Cultural Alliance is evolving. The Alliance is interested in partnering with existing programs (such as MARN) to foster community and leverage the resources that we have.
Perhaps not the most fortunate nickname, the moniker “Kre8 Kamp” was used just “for fun” for the two–day planning session that took place in on February 4th and 5th. The decision to make the session public through blog and video was made last minute, so the organizers were not really prepared for it.
As Christine indicated, the cultural planning process set in motion for Milwaukee is unique as it brings together both non-profit and for-profit sectors. On the outset, it was decided that the planning process for Milwaukee would take top-to-bottom approach [rather than from the ground-up approach], with gradual widening of the circles and stakeholders involved in it.
As I am writing this summary, I am struck by the impersonal phrasing that was used to describe the decision-making process. Who exactly decided that the cultural plan should take top-to-bottom approach?

As you might have heard, the chief goal of the planning process is to ensure that Milwaukee is a globally competitive, distinct region with sustainable creative economy. The answer to the question “What makes us distinct?” has not yet been ironed out, but the hope is that the planning process will illuminate the resources and cultural assets that we have here.

These are the 7 task forces Creative Summit implemented:
1. Vision
2. Leadership
3. Planning and process – seeks means to extend the planning process and build one team of creative individuals working in the region.
4. “Low hanging fruit” – tries to grapple with the question of what can be done now to move us forward. One of immediate aims is to create a creative coalition website that would provide a comprehensive information database and connectivity.
5. Education and workforce development – finding ways of providing lifelong creativity learning.
6. Efficiencies and resource management – geared towards organizations, works towards shared services and resources.
7. Communications – promotes creative economy.

One of the most important aspects of the process is gathering information: generating a creative asset map (locating those assets geographically within the region) and establishing the vitality index. Benchmarking for sustainable public/private funding is also crucial.

The process is staffed by the Cultural Alliance that is also currently seeking to hire somebody to help with the process for 30 hours a week. Chances are the Alliance might need additional money to move the process forward.

Widening the circle:
The important next step will take place on March 25th, when a larger gathering of folks (about 200 people) from the creative economy will take place. The Cultural Alliance seeks to gain perspective from the insights of variety of groups: individual artists, designers, illustrators, architects, writers, actors, musicians, educators, also artists employed by larger institutions such as Milwaukee Ballet, [artists who have union representation, unemployment insurance and other benefits, but still don’t work 12 months a year], people working in advertising, film, galleries, hi-tech industry, design engineers, culinary arts, fashion, gaming, industrial design, recreation and parks, as well as from neighborhood groups. The aim is to work on the vision statement.

Gary Tuma expressed concern on how community-based, informal initiatives are defined and accounted for.

Melissa Musante emphasized that MARN needs to be reaching out there to different types of artists as so far it hasn’t reached out beyond the East-side. In her assessment, we really have no idea of the breadth of artists working in the city, or of the ways these artists work.

Christine Harris suggested the census of other creative assets, outside of formal organizations. Currently, under the auspices of LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation) there is a work being done on designating “main street” areas. A Cultural Vitality Index is being created for Milwaukee (according to the guidelines established by Urban Institute). From what I understand, this is happening through UWM's Urban Anthropology department. One of the outcomes of this process could be a template for gathering further information on other vital areas of the city. Ideally, such process would lead to building a comprehensive database of what’s happening in each neighborhood within the area in order to stimulate partnerships and exchanges and foster build cultural community from the ground up. Engaging leaders from the communities would enhance the process.

As Melissa suggested, one of the outcomes of such an initiative might be bridging social gaps in the city.

Melissa also mentioned that there is a lot of art programming for kids in the city, but no support for adults. MARN is committed to be focused on adults and nurturing development of working artists.

In the discussion that ensued there were a few issues raised:
WPA as an example of governmental involvement in sustaining artists (Jeff), problems related to donating art to fundraising functions (Thea), preserving neighborhoods and affordable brick-and-mortar living and work spaces for artists (Thea), maintaining economic stability of neighborhoods (Shirah), necessity for funders to think “outside of the box” (Gary), creating some kind of “trading floor” for artists, artisans and designers (Jeff), supporting organizations who are willing to/and know how to use artists as a resource, as ACLU, for example (Shirah), recognizing our sweet water resources as an asset (Shirah).

Christine asserted that the Cultural Alliance will do its best to influence the policies. She also raised the question on what cultural district models we could build on. Suggestions from the group were: Baltimore, Minneapolis, and Torpedo Factory in Arlington, Virginia (Shirah), Bema Center in Omaha, NE (Melissa), Pima County Cultural Plan and Chicago Cultural Plan (Dorota).

At the end, Melissa asserted that MARN will be working towards making sure that artists work for the paycheck. Yet, she also said all MARN could do was to empower the artists, but couldn’t do their work for them.

As promised, my remarks will follow soon. In the meantime, feel free to comment.

1 comment:

  1. Hello,

    I can only speak for the reasons i didn't attend, which are two fold:

    1st, i'm really busy and finally getting tired of the constant cycle of arts whining (see

    2nd, i woulda been there inspite of my exhaustion, except i had to work out some details for upcoming events at the CCC and that meeting ran into the time of the listening session.

    The experience ended up being instructive though. Comparing the CCC's process, based on consensus and radical inclusion, to the Kre8Kampf's top-down approach is remarkable.

    Neither process is perfect, and the CCC's certainly wouldn't work on the scale the Kre8 people function on, but this has me thinking about scale. If we want things to come from a ground-up approach it makes a lot more sense to focus most of our energies on the level of our neighborhoods, not on the city.

    In other words: see you at the follies.