By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Aug 11, 2014 at 9:03 AM

Museum professional Dennis Kois is a hometown boy who never expected to return to his native Milwaukee.

But in February, Kois was named the new director of the Milwaukee Public Museum, bringing him back to Brew City after a 20-year absence.

We sat down with him to talk about coming home, what he found at the museum when he arrived and what the future will bring for a venerable Milwaukee institution.

OnMilwaukee.com: How does it feel to be back home?

Dennis Kois: It’s great. Milwaukee’s changed a lot while I was gone in some ways. In other ways, it has not changed at all.

OMC: In what ways has it not changed at all?

DK: I’d say it’s still as friendly as ever, and as this last winter proved, it’s still as cold as ever.

OMC: You came back just in time for a cold one.

DK: Yeah, it was something else. To me, there's just a lot more variety of food, of culture, of sort of the ethnic mixes that continue to morph in great ways. I think those things are a little bit more exciting to see come back, to have sort of a nascent foodie culture in town is just awesome to come back to. It wasn’t the case when I was a kid. It did not exist then.

OMC: Had you stayed in touch? Had you come back in the interim?

DK: Oh yeah, I still have parents who live in the city, so we would be back for holidays and things with our kids, so I saw little bits of it, but we were kind of in our little bubble just visiting family and stuff, and so diving back in here has been great.

The one thing that that’s been striking to me, that’s perhaps a more challenging change is just that the city’s political dialogue has become so polarized, which has affected the whole country really, but that’s also not the Milwaukee I remember as a youngster, a teenager. So I think that’s one of the changes that actually makes me think about the role of the museum going forward. Sort of a forum for dialogue and discourse and civic engagement.

OMC: Has that affected you in your position here since you’ve been back, that discourse?

DK: It really hasn’t. I mean, it’s more of just an observation, but I think it sort of impacts on a grand scale how the city functions, what gets talked about, how things are happening. One of the roles, and one of the great things about the museum, other than a Brewers game or maybe the State Fair or maybe the public library, it’s probably got the most diverse visitation, sort of across every spectrum you can imagine -- socioeconomic, racial, political, cultural, suburban, city. That’s an incredible opportunity for the museum. What do you do with that?

Those people are all here. It doesn’t mean they’re still interacting with each other. How do you use that opportunity both for interaction among visitors and for interactions of the institution with visitors of all those different sort of stripes and categories? That’s a pretty unique opportunity. I think that’s kind of cool. That’s what I've been thinking about.

OMC: Does it put the museum a little bit above or outside the political fray in the sense that nobody sees it as a Republican thing or a Democratic thing?

DK: It does. The museum’s ecumenical. We have no agenda in that regard, but I think the museums have always played a role in forming a kind of civic base. What does it mean to be a citizen? What does it mean to Milwaukeean? What's the city? Where does it come from? Where is it going? What are we about? Right?

I think that piece of what the museum is, is something you'll see us maybe accent and move more toward in the future, just because it’s an important role for the museum to play. I think as things have become a little bit more polarized, that it becomes even more key for the museum to sort of be neutral, the Switzerland of ideas about Milwaukee and vision about Milwaukee, where the city’s going.

I think that’s a great opportunity for this museum.

OMC: Let’s circle back to one thing about your coming home. Had you always hoped or expected to come home or was it a surprise?

DK: I had not ever expected to come home. In fact, like a lot of people who grew up somewhere, you tend to define yourself as "That’s the place I was from, and now I’m in this other place." I was gone for 20 years, so it never occurred to me to come back, but this particular opportunity came up and it just seemed like the right thing at the right time. I've got kids, I've got family here. This is the museum I first interned in when I was a student, so I only wished I stood outside and said, "I’m going to run this place someday." It just made sense at the right time, so I’m excited to be back.

OMC: Your other museum positions have been more arts-oriented …

DK: Almost exclusively, yeah. Two of those institutions, the one I was just at, which was really an odd duck, and then the one in Texas had a history, natural history, children’s museum component, was sort of an all things museum, a classic American museum, but the rest are all art museums.

OMC: Does the arts background give you a different perspective perhaps than other museum directors had?

DK: For better or worse, yes it does. I think probably the downside is I need to get more informed about our content, what the natural history museum side of the world is up to and sort of where we’re headed in that regard. But I think, fundamentally, running a museum is running a museum. We've got incredibly talented curators. We've got knowledgeable staff. My job’s somewhat different.

The way it might be a positive is art museums tend to be a little more risk-taking and a little more comfortable with pushing boundaries of what it means to be a museum and how you interact with visitors, and I think that’s something that might be beneficial for this museum and frankly probably for all natural history and natural science museums to be thinking a little more, in more challenging ways, about where they go.

What do you do with collections? How do you be topical and relevant for audiences? That’s something I think art museums have to struggle with more because the content is a little more opaque to people, especially contemporary, which is where I was. That’s challenging stuff. A lot of people don’t like it, don’t get it, and so a museum has to really work to make it connectable and understandable and engageable and interesting for a broad spectrum of people.

I think that’s something that a public museum needs to think about, too. How do we connect with all those people in different ways, and what can we do differently?

OMC: Is the timing especially good in the sense that the museum may have been sort of conservative over the last few years, considering the financial issues it has struggled with?

DK: The museum’s been on a really positive path in the sense that it focused on what we needed to, which was sustainability. If the previous presidents such as Dan Finley, who was an excellent politician and a fine museum director, it turned out, and Jay Williams, who was an excellent banker and businessman and fine museum director, it turned out; if they had not done what they did, there wouldn’t be a museum here for us to run. This would not exist.

By default, it had to buckle down and just focus on, frankly, the numbers and finances and make sure what it was doing is sustainable. We’re in a great position in that we’re nearly debt-free. (Debt) went from $23, $24 million a decade ago to now we’re at $1.6, and it'll be down to zero within about a year and a half. That’s huge.

I think the way forward for the museum is fundraising. I think all the operational improvements that have been made over the last decade have been great, but you’re not going to raise another $10 million by charging an extra 50 cents on admissions or charging more for hot dogs. Fundamentally, that’s a philanthropic question. It’s how do you raise more support and a broader base of support from this community. I think the challenge now is what does a museum do that’s going to matter to this community?

What's the vision for the future? Then, are people going to support it? That’s sort of what I’m here to do. I think that's the opportunity and the challenge in front of us.

OMC: What do you see as that vision for the future? When I’m the millionaire and you call me up, what are you going to tell me?

DK: I think there's a couple of broad themes that you’re going to see the museum sort of push on. The first, I would say, is the museum is organized in a way museums grew 100 years ago, 150 years ago, right? We’re 130 years old at this point. American museums came out of a legacy of academia and cataloging the world. Collecting it and cataloging it in this very Germanic sort of structural sense.

Milwaukee was particularly good at it because we came out of this great German immigrant history, and so I think we’re still organized that way. Ultimately, we need to reorient ourselves towards what's going to matter to our audiences.

What's going to matter to our audiences? What's topical, what's relevant, what's interesting for people now and in the future?

Where are collections strong? Where can we make the most of what we own out of these four-and-a-half million objects? What matters most?

What's supportable? What's sustainable in this community? Ultimately, it’s great if we’re going to do shows about XYZ, but if XYZ has no fundability and the community couldn’t care less, you’re not going to succeed no matter how great the shows are. You’ve got to be supportable.

If you’re trying to go at those three items and sort of map that out to the center point of that Venn diagram, it’s where we need to be. For example, as opposed to having a history section and anthropology section and archaeology section and some scientists who are interested in biodiversity, you might see us talk about a Wisconsin history and culture curatorial focus, right?

That could be all of those things. It could be indigenous peoples. It could be contemporary Milwaukee. It could be food culture. It could be future Milwaukee. It could be global warming as impacting Wisconsin agricultural industry in the Great Lakes. It could be past, present, future -- but it’s around Milwaukee and Wisconsin.

There may be something we choose to do around climate change or around biodiversity or around world cultures and areas where we can tell an interesting story and do something relevant.

I think you'll see us position ourselves as more of a statewide institution, which is not to say we’re not going to still very much serve the county. We’re a county collection. It’s a county building. I talked to some of our county supervisors about this. Ultimately, it’s to the county’s benefit to get those resources out into the state and to lend more objects to other institutions in this state, to travel shows, to be a partner with other museums in the state, and the mercenary side of that is to also fundraise in other parts of the state.

We’re the biggest institution in this state by far as far as museums go. Our 10-year average (attendance) is double that of the art museum. It’s bigger than anything else in the state, and a lot of it comes from across the state, so we need to be out there more. I think you'll see that piece moving forward.

Overall, I also think you’re going to see us focus on what I would kind of call local flavor: a local food movement and a local music scene. One of the things, I think, science and history museums have gotten themselves in trouble with is telling these really globalized stories in really generic ways. You could walk into the bio-diversity area and see the global warming exhibit in L.A., Minneapolis, or New York, and once you’re in there, you would have no idea what city you’re in because they’re all going to show you a polar bear and an ice floe.

We still want to tell those global stories, but I would much rather we do it through a local or regional lens using those collections and connecting people what they know. I mean, polar bears are great in the abstract, unless things get much colder here, in which case maybe we'll have that.

I’d much rather we tell it through the story of Wisconsin food and what can be grown here and how the climate’s changing and what the president’s report on climate change this year, Wisconsin’s the third most impacted state in temperature swing in the last 150 years. It’s Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin.

We’re at the front edge of that, and we’re kind of facing the unknown, so if we’re going to talk about it, let’s talk about it through a local lens. I think you'll see us do that in both the global stories we tell, and I think you'll see us become more local in turning the museum inside-out and getting out into the community. We don’t want to just be a museum of objects that are about the past.

I’d love us to be the first natural history/history museum in this country to have a contemporary curator. There should be someone out there now collecting industrial memorabilia and culture and what's going on in the sub-communities of the city now.

OMC: Rather than trying to go back later and …

DK: … trying, you’re right, exactly. Hunt those things down or wait for people to die and give them to us. That’s not effective proactive strategy, right? We need to be out in the city, and we do need a place that connects you to what makes this city what it is and connect that to the history of it.

If you’re interested in foodie Milwaukee, we should be able … We've got all kinds of interesting history around restaurants and hotels and German immigration, how food here became that aspect of it, and you could get out in the community and do a cool program with the chef of Circa 1880 or Wolf Peach or something where you’re talking about, "so how are they thinking about what people eat here and where their food comes from and where they get their growers from," and we could connect that to the now.

It’s not a program that's in the museum at all. It’s out in the community. I think you'll see us do more of that.

OMC: Is this turning the museum inside-out in more ways than one? I mean, does this mean you're rethinking the amount of floor space that’s currently given to something like the rain forest?

DK: That may be the case, but you know, changing exhibits takes a huge amount of time and huge amount of money.

Until I can raise a huge amount of money, it’s going to take time. The thing we can change fastest is programming ... so I think first you'll see programming lead, and some interventions in the galleries, and those will be around things like inserting technology and overlaying different frameworks in the galleries to tell slightly different stories and update some of those galleries, but first will come programs, but then ultimately, we do have to reconsider those galleries and the stories we tell and how we tell them, but that's going to have to be a later undertaking once we go through some other processes first. The first one up will be the Streets of Old Milwaukee, is its 50th anniversary next year, right?

OMC: Can I ask, are you creeped out by the lady in the rocking chair?

DK: I am creeped out by the lady in the rocking chair. I don’t think you’re a natural human being if you’re … You’re synthetic if you’re not creeped out by the lady in the rocking chair, but in a great way, right, so it’s a memorable experience.

That exhibit is a great example of our biggest opportunity and our biggest challenge, because there's a nostalgia and a connection that people have with that exhibit because it’s been here 50 years, which is an endless amount of time in museum terms even.

There's also that, like, well, nothing ever changes at the museum. Why do I go back? It’s the place it was when I was a kid. I’m bored.

This is our biggest challenge. If I announced tomorrow that I was taking that exhibit down, I would be pilloried. I would be run out of town. That would be the end of me.

OMC: Tarred and feathered.

DK: People are bored with it. They’ve seen it 100 times, so what do you do? I think for the 50th anniversary, we’re going to try and really subtly and thoughtfully use technology to slightly alter the experience and improve it and add another layer to it, so we’re going to redo the entry which is a part that looks dated but isn’t intended to be dated.

It was modern at the time. We're going to redo the entry, but then we’re going to do some technology insertion. We’re going to use things, and I’m not wedded to any one of these yet, but we’re talking about things like augmented reality. You'll take your iPhone, and you'll pan down the street, and instead of seeing the street in your video, we’re going to see an actor in period costume walking down the street who has something to say. You’re going to see touch points for information or other kinds of content or ways for people to leave comments for each other within the world of AR.

You’re going to see clear-screen video technology where some of those windows in those shops have shopkeepers who appear and will have a conversation or do a presentation about what the shop is, and what did this company become in modern Milwaukee. A lot of those companies still exist in changed format, so what are they now, and what do they do now? How do they keep up with technology? So, connected to the now.

You'll see us use technology in those kinds of ways, but it’s a real challenge, those exhibits, you cannot recreate what's in this museum for all the money in the world, I mean, to some degree, the expertise doesn’t exist anymore, to create dioramas at the quality level this museum holds. Those would hold up against any museum in this country. They top what you see in New York. They top what you see in L.A. They’re this incredible resource that you can’t replicate, but they’re also almost historic in their own right.

OMC: How do you balance that with the people who have nostalgia for the things that aren’t here anymore? That ask, "Where's the junk pile?" "Where's the pioneer village?"

DK: Thoughtfully and carefully, and I think ultimately if the new items and the new creations ... We’re doing this new "Crossroads of Civilization," which is the first current exhibit in 20 years. If that exhibit is done well enough and of high enough quality that it, in its own right, becomes a memorable, magical experience, people are going to be okay with it. It’s like, "okay, they’re doing it, it’s different, but it’s still great. This is really exciting." It’s pushing in the new even as you’re respecting the old and finding that balance.

It’s going to be a tightrope for the institution to walk. It could be done badly, and hopefully, we will not be accused of doing it badly.

OMC: Can we talk a little bit about what goes on behind the scenes here? Is that changing in any way?

DK: The answer is yes and no. A lot still happens behind the scenes. I think as the museum went through some of its challenges, it had to focus resources on the public side more so than on the behind-the-scenes side, so some of the areas of research and field work and other things the museum used to do historically it does somewhat less of now. Those are still areas where we can do valuable work, those collections. You can get DNA out of those collections. You can get historic information out of those collections that there's no other way to get in the state or in this country.

That kind of research and that kind of work will happen more and more through partnerships. So we’re already forging a lot of partnerships with UWM, with Marquette, with Carroll, other universities and colleges to basically tap into what the museum can do really well, which is collections and the public side of talking about research and science, and partnering with researchers who really have need of the resources and the space and the technology and the opportunity to make use of those collections.

Back to that point of a curatorial focus areas or curatorial hybrids. If we had a Great Lakes focus, for example, in one of those (partnerships), we’re not necessarily going to have three hydrologists on staff who are doing (research) … or ichthyologists doing Great Lakes research. We’re going to partner with water and sewer. We’re going to partner with UWM. We’re going to use those collections and have an onsite curator and an onsite scholar and researcher, but it might be more to coordinate effective use of those collections than it is that we’re doing all that research ourselves.

Public private partnerships and partnership research ... it’s the model we’re going to have to go to because the days of a museum having 200 scientists behind the scenes doing some research, it’s not a fundable model anymore. That governmental funding does not exist.

OMC: The mission has not changed, I assume.

DK: No.

OMC: The key is just to find new ways to accomplish that?

DK: Absolutely.

OMC: When you look at the permanent exhibits, have you considered upgrading anything that currently exists?

DK: Certainly, we want to improve our public face. I think some symbolic actions and acts have to be done. For example, there's a contractor floating around this week who's redoing all the exterior landscaping. We’re redoing signage. We’re going to try and improve the concourse for visitor experience and ticketing and entry. We’re going to be doing things like replacing funky carpets.

If I don’t want my kids catching disease off of it, we’re probably going to replace it. That said, I think we've got to be really careful, because the public reads a lot into changes. If we went in and said, "Okay, we’re going to modify the Planet Earth exhibit to tweak the dinosaurs and do a few exciting things in there," and then people came and said, "you know, they did like three things, but basically, this exhibit isn’t really changed," they’re probably going to read it as, "Okay, they don’t really mean what they say. They’re not really going to change. It’s just more of the same."

We've got to be careful that we do enough to acknowledge that there's work to be done, and we need to improve this museum in a lot of ways, but when we do the exhibits, we really have to change the whole experience. It’s a fine line to walk, because people go, "Oh, that's all you’re going to do? That’s not very much."

You can’t do nothing. There's a lot of work to be done to up the ante for the museum and improve the quality level of what we offer here and the ways we offer it. It won’t be everything at once. We won’t be able to do that yet.

OMC: Can you talk a bit about the progress on the solar panels?

DK: Slow, slow.

OMC: Last July it was going to take five months, and now it’s this July and it’s still not done.

DK: We’re very grateful to Milwaukee County for funding and building that project. It is a county construction project.

We are excited to see it done. It will be done this fall. They did run into some challenges. I think the structural challenge with the parapet, they had to rebuild some of the wall in a way they didn’t expect, so that led to some issues, but it will be done. Like any complicated project, it has a lot of moving parts. I think also the company that made the solar arrays they original spec-ed, went bankrupt, and so they had to find a different company with different solar arrays. So there's been some complications, but it will be done.

OMC: How often do you press the snake button?

DK: I press it periodically to make sure it’s working.

OMC: Did you know that there's another one?

DK: There is, yes. There is a second button, and I think there will be some interesting things happening … with the snake potentially, so we'll see what happens.

OMC: With the snake in the bison exhibit?

DK: Yes. That, to me, is like that is one of our little signature moments, and I think that we want to make sure that thing’s always working … The day that it doesn’t work is the day I get a lot of phone calls. … I think you'll see some interesting things happen with that exhibit.

OMC: Do you personally have a favorite? I mean, you must have come here when you interned here. As a kid you came here?

DK: As a kid, I came here.

OMC: Do you still have an enduring favorite?

DK: What made the connection with me was when I was a kid and came here, and the rain forest had opened. I wasn’t really a kid. I was probably like a tween or teen at that point. That thing was on two levels, and the lighting and the sound and the whole thing. That was when I was kind of like, "Oh, someone does this. I want to do that." That, to me, was the highlight of every school year, coming here. I was a terrible student, and I didn’t want to go school other than field trip days.

That, to me, was it. "I've got to do this. I need to work in museums. It’s the coolest thing I've ever seen." That one, I still connect with.

OMC: What about your kids?

DK: They’re still getting to know the museum. My son and I were here just Saturday walking around, and I let him lead me around to see what he was interested in. He's just getting used to it. They’re used to art museums, so a museum for them is like, there's interesting weird things, and contemporary art has always got oddities, so they tend to be attracted to the oddities. He's kind of finding his way around, but he likes the dinosaurs and the crystals and all the things little boys like.

My daughter hasn’t homed on anything yet, so we'll see. I would’ve given my left arm to have a parent who worked in a museum and like run around that place.

OMC: Especially after "Night at the Museum," you'd think kids would be tuned in.

DK: My kids have never seen that movie, so I should show it to them, but then they might be disappointed that nothing comes to life. We do overnights, so I’m going to bring them to an overnight.

OMC: We had written about the Hopi masks that were removed at the request of the tribe. We got a lot of feedback about from readers who said, "Well, instead of just taking them off view, are they going to be on view certain times with explanations, or are they being returned to the Hopi?" People want to know what's going on next. Are they just going to sit in storage now?

DK: That particular case, I think, those things may still be in the collection, the Hopi were not wanting them to be on view, but they respect that the museum holds them and takes good care of them. I’d think when those requests come in, the museum could go further in providing some context and telling … You have to tell the story about how you talk about history and who owns history and those kinds of requests and actions. I think something will go in there eventually that’s going to replace that. We'll comply with their request, but then there's an, "Okay, well, now what do we do with that space."

It takes sometimes months or years for something to develop the plan of what's going to go in there and write the content for it and to do it.

OMC: How does a museum view those kinds of requests? Are there tons of these requests? Are they fairly rare?

DK: They’re fairly rare. There's not a huge number of them, but we take them very seriously. The federal law, the Native American Graves Protection Repatriation Act, NAGPRA, was passed to recognize that a lot of museums ended up with material that came out of grave looting and inappropriate trade. We take them seriously.

On the flip side, these are county assets, and so some of the applications are not valid, and we have actually denied some. One (case) from New Zealand we've pursued and we returned the material, and that delegation’s going to come and give a public talk about their culture and why these items are valuable to them.

It’s a mix, but it’s not a huge volume of material. This museum doesn’t have a lot that was acquired in that way and has a really good relationship with Native state tribes, and so I think a lot of that conversation happened even before that law was passed.

OMC: It’s kind of a manifestation of a bigger, somewhat bigger issue too, isn’t it, where you get countries who say, "Well, these things were taken by …"

DK: Sure, you still have Greece suing Britain to get the Elgin Marbles back. It happens on all kinds of levels and layers.

OMC: Yeah, it’s a huge can of worms, isn’t it?

DK: It is a huge can of worms. There's Nazi looting and repatriation and all those (issues), so it’s a public challenge. Ultimately, museums want to ethically do the right thing. Museums are nonprofits, and they’re fundamentally based on a set of ethical stances that are … You fundamentally don’t want to hold material that probably should not be there.

On the flip side, we hold material in the public trust, and then we have an obligation to actually make sure we’re not turning it over for the wrong reasons and that we’re not just responding to cultural trends as opposed to larger ethical issues.

It’s true in other collecting areas, too. It’s illegal to collect eggs in nests in this country at this point, so other than with special permits, nobody’s going to build collections of 10,000 eggs that show a full range of what the state’s fauna presents. Those collections become more valuable as social norms change and laws change and things like that.

OMC: What's coming on the horizon that you’re most excited about?

DK: I’m really excited about "Crossroads of Civilization" opening. We've done a few things with technology, but I think this exhibit will be the first one that really pushes where the museum’s been a little bit on integrating content and technology. There's going to be four different interactive components within the exhibit or technology-based. Three are interactive, one is more straight video.

Things like scans through mummies and timelines; touchscreen timelines with a lot of content and contemporary connections, interactive maps and some other things. I’m excited to see us take those steps and then learn from what our visitors tell us about those steps.

There are tons of visitors who think a museum is lame if it doesn’t have technology in its galleries, and then there's an almost equal number who think that technology is the worst thing that ever happened to museums. I think we have to make both those groups happy and connect with both those groups. I’m interested to see how this goes. It’s going to be a great exhibit. It’s a great chance for us to highlight some of the collection pieces that people love here, the mummies and Mediterranean cultural and civilization development pieces, so it should be real interesting.

It’s the first one in 20 years, you know, and having a new permanent exhibit is a huge sign of the museum reaching a point where it can really think about being a museum fully again and engage with what it means to serve exhibits and things. That’s really exciting for us.

OMC: Is there a mix of excitement and trepidation, being the first one in 20 years?

DK: Expectations will be high. What if people don’t like it? I think we’re trying hard to meet those expectations in a fairly modest, in footprint, exhibit. It’s not a huge gallery, but it’s going to be really well-done. It will meet, I think, people’s expectations of the sort of immersive environment that the museum’s known for but also integrating some of that technology and showing that there's a future for exhibits here; that there's a way that these things can move forward and be exciting. I think that will be a great example, and we'll learn from it.

OMC: We should watch The Streets of Old Milwaukee with a keen eye?

DK: I think you should. That’s going to be a really exciting challenge. I used to be an exhibit designer, and I designed exhibits around Jackie Kennedy and had the Kennedy family walk through. I've designed exhibits on world cultures and had the president of that country walk through. I've done all kinds of stuff where I was nervous.

I have never been more nervous than designing and working on and thinking about The Streets of Old Milwaukee, because I don’t think there's a community that cares more about a specific component of a museum than this community cares about that exhibit.
So we better not screw it up, and hopefully, you will see that we do not.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.