Monday, April 6, 2009

Updates on the Creative Coalition

Gary Tuma and I attended March 25th Creative Coalition meeting at the Italian Community Center and I do owe everybody updates. For the official version of the event, you can check out the report posted on Milwaukee Cultural Alliance's website by Christine Harris. That way, I can spare you dry, bureaucratic details and just cut right to the chase.

Interestingly, due to the recent (and fully justified) upheaval surrounding Janet Zweig's public art project, the Creative Coalition's activities have been off the radar screen. Perhaps this is also why I haven't heard from the Coalition, even though I volunteered for one of the task forces (I opted for Communications lead by Jonathan West, mostly because I respect his position within the Coalition's constellation of players). It is a busy time, everybody pulling hair over a threat of loosing Zweig's project to the chopping - pardon, "voting" - block. I have to acknowledge though, that I did receive an electronic "Thank You" note.

Now, on to the issues. Two things were striking about the meeting:
  • appalling homogeneity of the crowd in which minorities were barely represented,
  • complete lack of involvement from our political "representatives."
While I hope the first will be remedied immediately with smart outreach efforts on the part of the Coalition's leaders, the latter needs closer scrutiny.

Given the current uproar around the rejection of Zweig's proposal, the exclusion of politicians from the planning process (be it self-imposed, or not) should be quite instructive and serve as an important lesson - I taught for many years, so I do trust you will bear my tone- that the Creative Coalition should seriously consider.

From many cultural plans that I had studied in the recent months, both from the US and elsewhere, Milwaukee is the only instance in which the planning process is being lead entirely by a private - non-for-profit - but nonetheless, entirely private enterprise. The groundbreaking Chicago Cultural Plan, for example, was initiated by the Mayor Harold Washington and lead by the newly founded Department of Cultural Affairs. The funding was provided by the NEA and Chicago Community Trust, a good, ol' mix of public and private funding. Many other plans I had seen were sponsored by similar conjoined effort of both civic leaders, public and private bodies. While Chicago's case is certainly unprecedented in terms of governmental involvement, that kind of involvement provides a firm footing for other plans as well. I don't find it particularly surprising. For a plan to succeed, it needs a support coming from all the significant constituents.

What I do find rather shocking is the divorce of public and private that seems to be taking place in Milwaukee right now. I don't know how it happened that no politicians were involved in the Creative Coalition. I am not willing to speculate here why this might have occured. However, if the Creative Coalition trusted its own intelligence and power just less than two weeks ago, perhaps we have just learned a harsh lesson that without involvement of the political leadership, no "creative"/cultural plan can come to fruition. Without a smart strategy to engage and secure the support of the Mayor, the Common Council etc. we are just waiting for other valuable projects to get shot down. So while you're calling your alderman to ask her/him for a vote in favor of Zweig's project, also consider asking them how come they do not participate in the Creative Coalition.


  1. Okay, it's late, I'm tired and I just spent a good part of the evening at a forum on arts and culture at Spreenkler. Thanks, Crickettoes, for making the diversity issue and value of artists' case at this forum - you were articulate ,passionate and right on. There were also other really smart comments and observations.

    It is time for a comment. First of all, let me say that politicians were invited to the Creative Summit, politicians were invited to the March 25 meeting and one even rsvp'd and then didn't show. While some of our political leadership is engaged in the development of our arts and culture in a myriad of ways, many are not. There is much, much work to be done to develop this constituency. Frankly, too few of us have spoken to them over too many years about what we do, why we do it and why it matters.

    Second, the reason the current effort to forge a distinctive vision for our community is being led by the nonprofit and forprofit creative sector is because if we are going to get it done, we are going to have to at least start the momentum ourselves. There are many instances in our community where political leadership jumps on board an initiative commenced elsewhere in the community and I believe that is what is going to happen here, like it or not.

    Also, I need to add that I, too, have read lots of community plans and talked with lots of community consultants and they don't always start, or end up with, strong political support. What they do do, however, is forge their own destiny, create an attitude of conviction, and find the way to make their dream of a vibrant creative community come true.

    The bitching and moaning about what is not working right here, what we are not doing like others, and what should or shouldn't be done is doing virtually nothing to productively move the agenda forward. Stop the whining, and get your butts around the table to make a difference.

    Everyone who is working on this Creative Coalition process right now is doing it outside of their regular jobs - there is no current funding for it. Aside from this Coalition work, we are very busy people, like everyone else. And because this is new and we are developing it as we go, the sailing isn't going to be smooth. Rushing to judgement is not going to make it happen any quicker, I assure you.

    The table is open for any and all to sit at. If we don't have enough minority representation, why aren't each and every one of you accepting some responsibility for bringing it? We asked every person who got a notice of the March 25 meeting to bring anyone they thought should be there. Why do you expect those of us that have stepped up to facilitate this process to do all of the work, and then you turn around and kick us for not doing it your way? As Pres Obama has said, now it is time for us to leave childish things behind, grow up and take responsibility. That means you, that means us.

    Political involvement?? How many of you have written the Aldermen about the Zweig project? Over the last two years, how many of you have told your Alderman about the artistic work you are doing, or invited them to your gallery, or show or someone else's show? When is the last time you talked with any one of them about the value and role of the arts in our community? How many of you have expressed the need for arts education to a school district or political leader?

    There are no Coalition leaders - there are only Coalition facilitators. We just want to get the ball rolling. Until we ALL accept our leadership role to make this creative community what we want it to be we will always be on the sidelines complaining about what we don't see on the community playing field.

    I, for one, remain committed to moving forward, even if that is sometimes one step backwards, for the betterment of this community. And I am going to stop listening to all of the whining that isn't constructive commitment and start paying more attention to, and shouting about, what is great about our creative community.

    Who's going to join me?

  2. Dear Christine,

    Really, we're on the same page: the point is that while we're calling our alder-people to implore them to vote in favor of Janet Zweig's project, we should also encourage them to become involved in the Creative Coalition process.

    On the side, Walker's Point Center for the Arts has always sought involvement in our neighborhood. Aside of our artistic and educational programming, we try to be in touch with whatever is happening in Walker's Point. Just recently, we held a very well attended, neighborhood-wide meeting with Alderman James Witkowiak regarding pertinent current issues.

    I dare to say that thanks to meetings like that one, many people come in through our door who would otherwise, most likely, not step into an art center. That's our own modest contribution to bringing different kinds of people together. I am proud to be working here, precisely because WPCA is willing and ready to accommodate meetings of that kind.

  3. That is really terrific, Dorota. And yes, I have seen some of the great connecting work you are doing.

    Not everyone is doing what you are doing.

    I look forward to continuing to work with you and others on moving the dial forward.