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Now that the contest for a new Milwaukee flag has come to an end, the local arts community obviously needs a new task.
It should be important and make the best use the immense talents of the artists who live and work in Milwaukee.
I have an idea, and it’s something that could help brand this city better than any flag, slogan or video ever could.
Let’s make Milwaukee the epicenter of the world for public art.
I have long felt the phrase "The artist shall lead them" has a particular cachet and potential for good. All of the arts enable us to see things, especially in ourselves, we might otherwise miss.
Here’s the way I envision this happening:
Visual artists – whether they paint, draw, sculpt, weave, sew, whittle, landscape, build or light – scour the city for places to do their thing, out in the open. We need to let the artist pick the location because the rest of us are stupid when it comes to things like that.
After that, we bring in the facilitator who will identify the neighborhood and the people whose permission is needed and can negotiate the deal with them. We use a facilitator because artists often aren't as well-versed in the business side of things.
After we’ve got agreement, we are off and running. One thing we don’t want here is to have government running things. It’s been proven time and again that bureaucrats have bad taste. We want to be able to free artists to do what they do best: their art.
Not everybody likes the statue of Venus, and that’s what we want to end up in our public spaces. Stuff that people talk about. Stuff that some people like and stuff that some people don’t like. But all the stuff has a home, on Milwaukee’s streets and buildings and lawns and even the skies above.
There are going to be temptations to hire a Santiago Calatrava or Mark di Suvero to put some art in our city, but I think the best thing is to use the talent we’ve got here. These artists should all be local. The art should be ours.
Think of a sidewalk with graphic designs of Romeo’s famous speech to Juliet carved into the squares of a newly laid sidewalk. Or a progressive mural on the side of a building dedicated to all the ethnic festivals in the city.
Those uninspired suggestions are obvious examples why those of us without any artistic taste should just stay the hell out of this.
We can’t expect our artists to do this for free, of course. So we need the esteemed folks at Visit Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Arts Board and other such organizations to continue funding these types of endeavors. I don’t think it’s nearly the cost of a new basketball arena and, in the long run, might be enjoyed by a whole lot more people.
There have been lots of studies concerning the value of public art to a community. It can break up the monotony of life in a city. It can give people something to share and to talk about. It often puts a smile on your face and can make you think. Public art can also help neighborhoods coalesce and grow into more cohesive places to live.
For us in Milwaukee, it could be all of that and more.
That's not to say there aren't public art efforts already happening. OnMilwaukee has reported previously on Black Cat Alley and the mural they are creating on the East Side, which includes work by local and national street artists. These are the sort of efforts we need to be promoting across the entire city.
It could become our brand. We’ve tried manufacturing, water, beer, sports teams and assorted other joys as the unifying theme for the city, one we can use to tell the world about how neat we really are. We have a new flag, even though most people don’t know we have a new flag.
But we need a new brand, and we need to stick with it. We need something that we can shout to the rest of the world and something we can shout to ourselves. It can’t be fake, though. It has to be genuine and succinct. Think The Big Apple or The Windy City or Music City or City of Angels.
Now, think Milwaukee – City of Art.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.