Jeramey Jannene
City Hall

Arts Board Wants New City Flag Search

Process to select popular People's Flag not inclusive enough, board decides, so start over.

By - Nov 14th, 2018 09:37 am
People's Flag of Milwaukee. Photo from

People’s Flag of Milwaukee. Photo from

The Milwaukee Arts Board wants a new flag, but has decided the process conducted by the People’s Flag of Milwaukee group was flawed. It’s recommending a new process, which could cost over $100,000, to select the city’s new flag.

The Milwaukee Common Council punted the issue to the arts board in July, asking it to decide whether Robert Lenz‘s Sunrise over the Lake flag design should become the new flag. Lenz’s proposal was selected by online voters following a 1,000-entry design contest held in 2016 and has become a near-ubiquitous symbol on city streets and products of Milwaukee companies, including the Milwaukee Brewers and Milwaukee Brewing Company.

A subcommittee of the Milwaukee Arts Board spent multiple meetings debating the merits of the unofficial People’s Flag of Milwaukee process that selected Lenz’s flag, which included an open call for entries, a panel of expert judges and online voting for a winner.

“We decided, although they did a very good job and they’re to be commended for the work they did, it was not inclusive enough. We would like to see something better done if the city is going to put their name on it,” said subcommittee chair Bill DeLind. Committee members including Tina Klose, Marcela Garcia and Mildred Harpole expressed concerns at subcommittee meetings with aspects of the process including the lack of bilingual information, a perceived shortcoming in outreach to the city’s African-American population and potential issues with the lack of citywide awareness around the contest.

The People’s Flag process, created by designer Steve Kodis, wasn’t formally adopted from the city at the outset, although both Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Mayor Tom Barrett attended and spoke at an event recognizing the finalists.

The current flag, which has been derided as the worst city flag in America, was created by then-Alderman Fred Steffan in 1954 by merging elements from a variety of design contest entries into a single flag.

The board wants to avoid that happening again. “I think the sentiment is that people want to go through this process like a root canal. We only want to do it once,” said board chair Alderman Michael Murphy.

The board is recommending to the Common Council that a request-for-proposals be issued and funds allocated for a consultant to manage a design process for a new flag. The consultant would be tasked with holding feedback meetings across the city to learn what residents wanted on the city flag. Area council members would be encouraged to promote and attend those meetings.

“It strikes (us) that this process is fundamentally not an aesthetic process, it’s a political process,” said board member Polly Morris.

The consultant(s) could then take that feedback to create a design contest with the parameters based on community feedback or design the flag themselves.

The end process likely won’t be cheap. “You would likely need six figures,” said Ald Nik Kovac.

The winning flag from the whole process could still wind up being Lenz’s Sunrise over the Lake design. “I think it’s important that we’re not excluding this flag. That could be the next flag for our city,” said Murphy.

Once a flag is finally selected, actual implementation will be affordable. Replacing all of the city-owned flags will cost $3,000 according to a Legislative Reference Bureau report. The flag also appears on all Department of Public Works vehicles, but could be replaced at no additional cost as the vehicles are replaced.

For more on the history of the People’s Flag and Milwaukee’s current flag, see our past coverage linked below.

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More about the People's Flag of Milwaukee

Read more about People's Flag of Milwaukee here

2 thoughts on “City Hall: Arts Board Wants New City Flag Search”

  1. snowbeer says:

    Should put the $100k towards alley repair. More than likely the flag most people like will come out the winner, again.

  2. Barbara Richards says:

    Oh My, Save the money and accept that those who care have spoken. The People’s Flag for me!!!!!

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