In the middle of 2018, after taking up the resolution of adopting the Milwaukee flag, the Milwaukee Common Council decided not to make a decision on the issue and instead sent it to the Milwaukee Arts Board to review. The board was asked to look into whether or not Milwaukee even needed a new flag and whether the process for determining the current challenger – the People's Flag of Milwaukee, aka the Sunrise Over the Lake – was good enough to accept.
Since then, the Arts Board deliberated and decided that yes, the city needed a new flag, thanks to its dated and racist imagery, as well as its embarrassingly convoluted design which positioned it for mockery as one of the worst-designed flags in history. (Skip to 10:50.) However, the Board also declined to make a decision on the People's Flag, punting the issue back to the Common Council and noting that the process for adopting a new flag is a political process, not an aesthetic one.
So the slight forward movement seems to suggest that most people are finally in agreement that a new flag is in order. But what will the new flag look like?
Yesterday, the Common Council deliberated on what the process of adopting a new flag should be. It could be a lengthy process; Ald. Mark Borkowski suggested coming to a conclusion by June 2020. It could be an expensive process, costing as much $100,000, as predicted by the Milwaukee Arts Board. Or it could be as simple as adopting the Sunrise Over the Lake as soon as the next Common Council meeting, which was suggested by City Clerk James Owczarski.
"You can do nothing," Owczarski said. "You can accept this and say done and keep the flag that you have. (Or) you could proceed to adopt the People's Flag via resolution. Or if you choose to adopt the recommendation of Arts Board, then (we would need) some sort of direction as to what sort of process you would like. They (The Arts Board) do imagine a more expansive and inclusive process for the selection of the flag."
I question how much more expansive the process can be. Ken Hanson, one of the organizers of the People's Flag initiative, claimed to have put forth press releases for the original call for entries and call for voting to 150 media outlets.
Three third-graders from Milwaukee College Prep (MCP) also attended the meeting. Each had a chance read their own essays on why the People's Flag should be adopted. The main takeaway: In MCP's Declaration of Excellence, the first line states, "Today is a new day," which aligns perfectly with the message of the People's Flag.
After thanking them for participating in government, Council President Ashanti Hamilton concluded, "That was probably the most important message we're going to hear all day."
Alderman Khalif Rainey, sponsor of the initial adoption resolution last year, enthusiastically attempted to push for a fresh vote at this meeting, but was denied.
"If we do it right, it's a multi-generational decision," said Ald. Nik Kovac, "I don't think we have a consensus right now. The goal of the process would be to achieve a consensus. If there's no consensus around a flag, it doesn't work."
"I think this is one of several instances where the city is out of sync with what is is the people want," said Rainey, "and the people of Milwaukee are asking that this flag be adopted as our official flag. You go to the Brewers game, it's waving. You go to the Bucks game, it's waving. You ride by homes in the neighborhood, it's waving. I think this is an opportunity to be in unison for what the people are asking for. People have worked very hard and diligently, and I think it's important to give them a resolution."
Finally, Kovac, Rainey and Borkowski were assigned to meet with the Owczarski to outline a course of action to either re-introduce the People's Flag for a vote, go through a new design and decision process, or to come up with a different solution.
Jason McDowell grew up in central Iowa and moved to Milwaukee in 2000 to attend the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
In 2006 he began working with OnMilwaukee as an advertising designer, but has since taken on a variety of rolls as the Creative Director, tackling all kinds of design problems, from digital to print, advertising to branding, icons to programming.
In 2016 he picked up the 414 Digital Star of the Year award.
Most other times he can be found racing bicycles, playing board games, or petting dogs.