"I adore the history of and ongoing investment in public space in this city."
What is your job and its responsibilities?
I direct an initiative called MKE<->LAX which investigates the cultural exchange between two American regions with Milwaukee and Los Angeles as the epicenters through residencies and public programs. Specific to MKE, I’m consulting with the Greater Milwaukee Committee on creative placemaking initiatives.
I focus on the cultural development of the City of Milwaukee. To do so, I engage in public dialogue around public space and the arts in relationship to other development initiatives in the city. Other collaborations include advising for America’s Black Holocaust Museum, the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network and Friends of Blue Dress Park. I’m interested in supporting Milwaukee to embrace the range of cultures that are here and encourage further social interaction so there’s an experience of mobility and access. I’m interested in what helps neighbors feel like they can know and support each other. I love the idea of Milwaukee as a trail network, whether that’s walking and biking trails, or walkable districts – so there’s a variety of ways to move about the city. I focus on artists and arts leaders because I love the way they dwell in the city for work and inspiration.
How long have you lived in Milwaukee and what brought you here?
I grew up in Waukesha and walked the same walk every day for the duration of my childhood. MKE was the big city to visit for adventures. Whether I was escaping for a night at Mad Planet or visiting artworks I considered friends at the Milwaukee Art Museum. I fell in love with this city as a young person. I came back after being away for my undergraduate studies and learned to become an artist in the city. There’s a phenomenal art community here that I adore. Arts workers are inventive with how they use space and architecture in the city.
I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago to learn about cultural production, as well as to experience a broad definition of culture and learn how culture can change over time. I also wanted to make a middle class living as an independent artist. About four years ago, I started MKE<->LAX because I was traveling frequently to other cities, and found myself homesick for Milwaukee as a place. I’m attached to the landscape and the social happenings here. I also found that I had a number of couch surfers in Los Angeles that were from Milwaukee and thought about how I could support these artists whether it was an exhibition or a presentation. This led me to build a residency program and other public events in Los Angeles and return to Milwaukee for advising. Now I split my time between these two regions and generate residency, public programs and other projects in both places.
What strikes you as the most unique thing about Milwaukee?
I adore the history of and ongoing investment in public space in this city. The preserved lakefront of public space is impressive in relation to what I’ve seen of private interests dominating in Los Angeles. The Milwaukee rivers are being redeveloped as active public spaces, and there is continued investment in a variety of parks. There’s a history of methodical planning in the city that creates a beautiful flow. I value public space as a commons — living rooms where we can culturally collide and remember that we live with each other.
What is the one thing you’d like to change about Milwaukee?
I experience concern and also hear a lot of concerns from my colleagues regarding cultural biases around race, gender, class and other cultural layers which can be infused into many aspects of the city and are often indicative of where segregation is still alive. These cultural biases can create an ongoing feeling of distrust among people. I’d love to see a concerted effort to find and support cultural leadership here who can affect the tonal layer of social interaction in the city. How do we find a place where we feel more culturally curious with each other such that we can explore each others neighborhoods together?
What is your favorite place to grab an after dinner drink?
What is your favorite Milwaukee event or hidden gem?
One of my favorite events has to be The Day of the Dead celebration in Walker’s Point that parades down National Avenue and throughout the neighborhood. I am connected to this event through Latino Arts Inc., which is an amazing cultural space at the United Community Center. Latino Arts brought in Los Angeles-based performance group Las Cafeteras last year and we organized a collaborative program for Las Cafeteras and local artists in connection with MKE<->LAX. Coming from Los Angeles which I experience as a Latina/o city, I love feeling this kind of cultural energy which has migrated into Milwaukee from other Latina/o centers.