After weighing more than 30,000 rankings from over 6,000 voters, Sunrise Over the Lake, the design by Robert Lenz, was voted People's Flag of Milwaukee by its citizens. The winning flag design was announced by Greater Together and the Milwaukee Flag Initiative on Tuesday, June 14 at the 88.9 RadioMilwaukee headquarters in Walker's Point.
The flag design bears an abstracted sun rising in a yellow field from beyond Lake Michigan's deep blue horizon. The sun is reflected in the waves of the water, producing three lighter blue lines, which are meant to represent the city's three rivers and three founders. It's very clean, easy to draw, quick to understand and unique, yet it would still be right at home with some of the best designed, most iconic flags in the country.
The fact that Sunrise won the popular vote is no surprise to me. When the five flags were originally unveiled I immediately pegged it as the winner. I also assumed it would run away with the victory, but apparently the race was quite close and Sunrise only narrowly beat out the runner-up (and my personal fave), DeChazier Stokes-Johnson's "M" Star design.
Still, Steve Kodis of The Milwaukee Flag Initiative said that even if voting was extended, it would have only solidified Sunrise as the winner and "M" Star as the close second.
Sunrise offers a safeness, a literal-ness and a relatability that is easy to grab onto. It's very easy to understand. This is a sentiment that is shared by the pro-civic flag crowd (aka the current city flag), who are drawn to that design because they understand what the flag represents without having to care about symbology or open a history book.
The shape and colors of the Sunrise design are also very inviting.
"M" Star, on the other hand, is an entirely new symbol that required a larger leap of faith that it would eventually embody the city and culture. It asked for a bit more patience. And the design, in contrast to the sun, is perhaps a little colder and edgier. These reasons, by the way, are why I appreciated it.
Over the course of voting, Lenz also did a bang-up job of promoting his Sunrise design and showing exactly what his flag could mean to the city. He addressed a common complaint: citizens didn't see Milwaukee in the new designs. They were uncomfortable with the newness because the designs didn't carry the weight of history and nostalgia. They felt empty. Lenz replaced that discomfort with possibility, via mock-ups on his Sunrise Facebook page. Stokes-Johnson tried to do the same on the "M" Star Facebook page, but Lenz's efforts really worked.
Now that Sunrise has been finalized as the People's Flag it's time to get to work replacing those mock-ups with reality.
The first run of standard 5' x 3' flags were available for purchase at the release party. Future merchandise will be available shortly through Greater Together's online shop. And since the design was released into the creative commons, other Milwaukee companies, artists, teams, designers and citizens are welcome to start appropriating the design at will.
Additionally, if you see this design as the way forward vexillogically-speaking, Greater Together and the Milwaukee Flag Initiative are also asking fans to contact their local representatives on the Common Council to adopt the new design in a more official way.
Whether you like or hate the design of either flag, it's unquestionable that the contest has fueled a new level of discourse and passion about both flag designs, the city itself, its representation and its problems and possible solutions. I look forward to seeing how the city and its citizens continue to push, shape and refine its sense of self.
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.