By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Apr 07, 2023 at 4:01 PM

OnMilwaukee's The Future Is Female series is brought to you by Alverno College and features some of the most interesting, innovative and intelligent women in the city.

Alverno College, for over 135 years, has strived to educate and empower women to realize their leadership, strength of voice and potential to lead in the working world. Alverno’s support of “The Future is Female” continues to showcase and exemplify these efforts by supporting the stories of grit, resilience and strength of character of present, past and future leading women in the Milwaukee community! #AlvernoStrong

Rosy Petri is a self-taught mixed media artist who primarily focuses on textile works.

"I also use oral history and music in my creative process, collage, printmaking, and anything I can get my hands on to celebrate and uplift the ongoing work of social justice, Black history and the sacredness of the everyday," says Petri.

Petri has worked as a professional artist for the last five years, first as a mentee of artist Della Wells.

"With her encouragement, I became a Pfister Artist in Residence, then selected as a Mary L. Nohl Fellow and Milwaukee Arts Board Artist of the Year," says Petri.

Last year, she was selected as the inaugural artist in residence at the bell hooks Center at Berea College.

Petri also has a background in nonprofit work. She completed two terms as an Americorps Public Ally, ran homeless shelters and soup kitchens, worked as a maid and caretaker, and lived in an interfaith art institute and friary in Detroit.

"I’ve come back to Milwaukee several times, always hoping it will be better than the last," says Petri.

Thus, Petri works to make Milwaukee a better environment where more of its residents can thrive. Currently, she is building an artist-driven residency and retreat space in Harambee to help emerging artists strengthen their professional resumes while developing solid studio practices in a closed environment.

Here are the 8 questions every female in the series answers:

OnMilwaukee: What does active listening mean to you? Do you consider yourself a good listener, and if so, how has this helped you in your personal and professional relationships?

Rosy Petri: I was a long-ago student of Alverno college, and know about the practice of active listening through my education there. Specifically, I was studying communications with the hopes of becoming a journalist, and spent a good deal of time working to develop a style of interviewing that allowed folks to show up as themselves in their answers. While I failed to achieve the degree, I walked away with excellent interview skills thanks to working as an editor of the newspaper and radio station manager. I still use these skills today in my oral history work and in my creative practice as a way to bring down walls. Listening to those who speak little, or are drowned out by louder voices, often leads me to discover more than what lies on the surface of a thing. Active listening isn’t listening to reply, but listening to understand. It’s an essential part of good communication, and a good way to find your people in the world. Active listening allows us to hear between the lines: sometimes, things that are left out are just as important as the things being said. 

What was the last subject you were curious about and then pursued to learn more? How did you pursue it?

 A few years ago, I was on a road trip that took me to my residency at the bell hooks Center. This was my first outing since the pandemic begun, and I was raring to get on the road. My first night was spent in Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the legendary crossroads where Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul to the devil in the hopes of learning to play the blues. Mississippi is the land of my father’s people, and home of the blues, and I’ve spent a good deal of time becoming a mediocre guitarist styled after country blues musicians like Mississippi John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotton, and Son House. Inspired by my family legacy and the storied history of the crossroads, I got it in my head to explore the Delta Blues Trail markers along my way. I was surprised to discover there was a Blues Trail marker in Wisconsin, not far from Milwaukee. It marked the site of Paramount Records, one of the legendary recording studios of early blues musicians. Through continued research, I learned about the founding and history of Paramount, including its start as a furniture company and connections to Thomas Edison. This research was conducted partially online, but eventually I reached out to Dutch author Alex Van der Tuuk and ordered two of his books on the history of Paramount. I’m still digging, and am working on a creative project around the blues women who followed the Mississippi River up to Wisconsin to record some of America’s first commercial blues records. 

If you can’t figure something out yourself, what source or person do you turn to first? How long do you wait before you ask for help? As a woman, do you think you wait longer to reach out?

I am a great researcher, one of my first volunteer gigs was cataloguing old newspapers for the Racine Public library. Add that to the journalism background, and I am a committed reference nerd. I will explore initially online to get a feel for what kind of material is available on a subject, specifically if there are books and print editions. If it’s locally available, I’m happy to hit the books. If I can’t find something locally, or there isn’t enough written material, I reach out directly to find an expert. I’ve got a lot of friends with niche interests, and I love talking with them about their favorite subjects while expanding my own knowledge base. I’ve also built a library specific to my research interests of folklore and mythology, Black women in literature, art techniques and masters, and essays. I’m not shy about asking for help, and have been known to find someone who will engage with me on their topic of expertise. 

What are your personal values? Who and/or what inspired them and how do these values affect your decision-making process? 

My personal values boil down to freedom and human dignity. I come from a long line of folks who have struggled with things like poverty, addiction, abuse, religious trauma and racism. Many of my friends and family members are queer, Black or poor, and we’ve had to struggle so much to find footing in this world because others don’t believe we are worthy of being treated with dignity or respect. As an artist, I center the ideas of freedom and human dignity in my works because I believe these are things we need to remind ourselves of, and to struggle for each and every living being. If I can inspire someone to seek their rights of freedom and dignity, I feel I’ve done good work regardless of the commercial outcome. 

Technology and on-line communication/meetings/social has definitely changed over the years. Do these things help or hinder your growth – or both?

I am mixed on the use of technology: it can be useful and equalizing, but it can also make us feel less connected on a personal level. I appreciated how accessible community engagement was throughout the pandemic, because there are so many spaces that lack accessibility for so many folks, whether they require physical accessibility or perhaps can’t get childcare, or don’t have access to transportation. With that being said, I do think we are losing our ability to communicate authentically in the real and virtual worlds: folks are so interested in virtue signaling or making themselves out to be experts that they fail to be honest about who they really are or what they know. I’ve also noticed folks are more inclined to say awful things online where they are safe from the immediate physical consequences of saying hateful things. I also miss connecting with strangers in the commons (cafes, libraries, parks), folks are so tied to their devices they are failing to see the beauty and despair developing around them. Technology is a tool, and tools can be used or misused. 

Where is the farthest you’ve traveled and what is a thing or two you learned from the experience? And what surprised you?

The farthest I’ve travelled was to Italy. The delightful surprise that I found was a place where art and artists were actively valued and built into the culture of the place. Everywhere I went, I was able to experience art in real life (on the streets, in the buildings, in the cuisine, and in music) as well as seeing working artists creating in real time on the street and making their earnings. I was delighted at how proud the Italians were of their cultural arts, and how essential artists have been to the development of the Italian identity. I can only hope to exist in a place where these gifts would be so treasured. 

What are your favorite art forms? How do you challenge yourself to actively engage in the arts?

I love all the arts. While I work primarily as a visual artist, I also enjoy music and the performing arts, culinary arts, and literary arts. I’m into all kinds of things, I think to be a creative means to use your art form as another language, which can sometimes be more universal and nuanced than language. I spend a good deal of time reading about artists and media that I am interested in, especially when the artists are living and Black. I spent some time as an arts and culture reviewer many years ago, and have always maintained the open curiosity to experience art of varying forms with an open mind. I keep several museum memberships on deck every year, rotating through the local institutions and traveling to see work I’m interested in. Recently, I’ve served on boards and committees for local arts organizations, and have held memberships as a creative professional in the interest of keeping up with what is happening locally. 

How do you/your work move Milwaukee forward?  

By virtue of staying here (for the time being) and making work that celebrates and uplifts Black folks, history, and social justice, I see my work as resistance to the statistics of our city being one of the worst places in the nation to be Black. I want to provide hope, to encourage others to create, and to stand up for each other and the environment against those who would turn us against each other in the interest of private profit. I believe in the vision of my community members, and of the talent of expression of our creative community. I hope to inspire and be inspired by the work that lies ahead.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.