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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

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In Arts & Entertainment

Adam Carr is documenting Milwaukee. (PHOTO: Erin Dorbin)

Carr's "Milwaukier Than Thou" revs up community spirit, critique


Adam Carr, a lifelong Milwaukeean, sees the beauties and the imperfections of the city. Through his creative and professional work, he contributes to the city in multiple ways.

Recently, Carr launched a project called Milwaukier Than Thou, a Facebook and Tumblr project that documents Milwaukee through a fresh, unique lens.

Carr is an interesting person; at 28 years old, he has an incredible range of vision and a ton of inspiration. He is exactly the kind of person Brew City must retain: the kind of person with talent and momentum, who both asks questions and searches for answers.

OnMilwaukee.com: Where did you grow up and go to school?

Adam Carr: I grew up on the East Side of Milwaukee, right around the Water Tower, and went to French Immersion / Golda Meir / Morse Middle School / Rufus King. I'm a proud, fierce, weird MPS product. For college, I went to an odd liberal arts school named Carleton College, in Northfield, Minn.

OMC: What do you do professionally?

AC: I freelance, which, in the parlance oftentimes means "unemployed." That said, I bootstrap a cacophony of opportunities / worlds / disciplines to make it work. When I'm getting it right, my professional and creative practice centers itself around community and communication.

OMC: What projects are you working on aside from Milwaukier Than Thou (MTT)?

AC: I work for the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service as a web coordinator. I teach after-school radio club at Reagan High School. I occasionally work script-writing jobs for LISC, including the MANDI Awards. I've worked for the MPS/United Way Combined Giving Campaign. I'm currently working with the Borchert Field neighborhood to develop their communications.

I also work in public art. With Sonja Thomsen, my public art collaborator, I executed a public art project last year ("Here, mothers are") and am working towards a new project on Mitchell Street for 2014 – the working title is "Listening to Mitchell."

With Reggie Baylor and Art Milwaukee, I'm working on TypeFace, a project that's taking shape this year.

I keep other writing / thinking / community projects going too. "January in Duluth" is pretty representative of what I try to do. There are other projects, also, including undertakings with Sarah Luther and Keith Hayes.

OMC: How did MTT come about? What was the inspiration? When did it start?

AC: This past summer, I spent some time digesting and thinking about our city's parade of "Milwaukee-X" names. There're so many kicking around these days, it's dizzying! And confusing. It's hard, because I love the city, but I feel like our projects and flagships can get muddied in these hastily-conceived, ready-made names.

What do we call a project with hammocks in Milwaukee? I know! Let's call it "HammockWaukee!" or maybe "Brew City Hammocks!"

I definitely appreciate how clear and unambiguous names of that formula can be, but I'm a big fan of names like "Salvation Army" or "Easter Seals" -- names that have a strong personality to them. In Milwaukee, "Cedar Block" or "Ex Fabula" come to mind. I like names that might give their audience a bit of pause, while holding some meaning.

While contemplating these honorifics, "Milwaukier Than Thou" came across my mind, originally as a joke. It didn't take me long to figure out that there's something there, as it gets right to the point of all the motherf*cking-names.

From there, I connected MTT to my deep desire for a platform getting me out of my head and into the world around me – I'm a cerebral person with a quixotic path around the city, and photographs made too much sense. I love wordplay and communication and exploration and sharing.

Quickly, those impulses became a Tumblr and then a Facebook.

OMC: What is the mission of MTT? What do you think of social media in general? Do you prefer Facebook or Twitter?

AC: MTT is a Tumblr and Facebook with a simple goal: it's a place for folks to commune with their path through our city. To dig for texture and depth, to happen upon people and places, to celebrate paragons and secrets. I've found it both challenging but uncomplicated, and always quenching of my thirst for Milwaukee. I always want people to move beyond their own conceptions, their own definitions of place, space, community – to build empathy. Maybe social media can push us to explore in a thoughtful, accepting way? It's always hard to tell, honestly. But I want to.

OMC: Will MTT ever be on Twitter?

AC: I haven't really thought about MTT in terms of Twitter, as it's made the most sense as a Tumblr and Facebook. The Tumblr is a collection of perspectives – I basically curate the #Milwaukee and #MKE tags – and the Facebook is a place for me to explore the city in photograph and text. It's been my first foray into the Tumblr community, and I've found the experience immensely rewarding – the perspectives on Tumblr constantly push me to think about the city in new ways.

In terms of Facebook, I've been propelled to develop my personal MTT voice as I explore the city. The city's so big and small and deep and shallow. Exploration is a great demand.

OMC: What are some of your thoughts about Milwaukee?

AC: The city ain't easy – ain't easy one bit. Our divisions are messed up and can be tragically limiting. Those differences and limitations can feel oddly smothering and enabling at the same time. It is our responsibility, especially those who love the city, to embrace the impulse. Our calls for "home" and "understanding" and "art" and "diversity" and "innovation" and "renaissance" are hollow if we don't embrace the complexities and mandates of those ideas.

I love our beautiful bones and our rhapsodic potential and our sinewy muscles. I'm betting a whole lot on it.

OMC: What would you like to see change?

AC: I'd like to see us be more courageous and embracing and understanding. Let's make it happen now, knowing the past and realizing what a future could be.

The more we find, the more we grow. The more we pay attention, the better this all gets. Plus: it's fun. Plus: it's all we got. So.


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