How the Arts Can Change City
Panelists discuss importance, future of arts in Milwaukee urban life.
It’s about more than just hanging classic pieces on pristine museum walls.
Or catching a show at one of the local performing arts centers.
From the gritty realities of everyday life to shining a light on the positives, a panel of Milwaukeeans recently shared their views on the importance art in all its forms plays on city life past, present and future.
Sherry Lemke, a local artist and founder of the Many Faces One Humanity Project, was among the panelists at the aptly titled talk, “Perspectives on the Future of the Arts in Milwaukee City Life,” on April 6 at the Milwaukee Art Museum.
“What we’re all about is highlighting the positives in Milwaukee,” said Lemke, who started her nonprofit organization in 2014 in an effort to bridge cultural, socioeconomic and racial divides.
Lemke, who describes her project as a series of “photographic narratives,” said it was born out of an innate desire to counteract the incessant, blaring negativity that is frequently used as a sounding horn for some of Milwaukee’s serious issues.
“I feel that we can address some of these serious issues with a lot of positivity,” Lemke said. “We will continue on with our awareness campaign, which is a 3-year education program.”
The photographic imagery displayed by Many Faces One Humanity frequently showcases persons of different races interacting with one another.
Lemke was not the only panelist who shined a light on the importance the arts play on bringing healing and understanding to a city that has a rich history as a cultural melting pot.
From his perspective, James Hall, past president of the Milwaukee chapter of the NAACP, said art is one of many ways serious issues can be addressed in the city.
“I think we can recognize art can play a strong component — a catalyst — to inspire individuals,” Hall said. “Art is needed to present a vision of who we are, and who we could be.”
Hall also encouraged attendees to think outside the traditional parameters of what is meant by the word “art.”
While venues such as the one hosting this particular talk are undeniably an important part of fostering the arts in Milwaukee, Hall said the medium can be expressed in innumerable ways, such as through an educational capacity, in a participatory fashion or by expressing commentary.
For all the virtues art can play as a backdrop to Milwaukee’s urban landscape, concerns have bubbled to the surface about its future, particularly as finances enter the equation.
Randy Cohen, vice president of the Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., was on hand to share his view of the future of art exhibits in major urban settings across the U.S.
In order for large-scale art exhibits and musical venues to succeed into the future, Cohen, who visits about 40 large cities a year, said major players need to think outside the proverbial box.
Cohen used his own stomping grounds in the nation’s capitol as an example. He said the way people are engaging with the arts — opera, in particular — has changed as the art form has made its way outside concert halls and into other arenas, including outdoor settings.
“It’s fascinating how people are turning the whole model on its side a bit,” Cohen said.
The “Perspectives on the Future of the Arts in Milwaukee City Life” talk was part of a broader three-day conference that was initiated by Marquette University’s Haggerty Museum of Art.