Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Creativity Works! in Milwaukee

The good (and perhaps surprising) news for the arts is…
The “creative industries” in Milwaukee are alive and well.
“Creative industries” employ more people in Southeastern Wisconsin than the much touted water industries and the food/beverage industries combined.
Milwaukee is a national leader in “creative industries.”

What, you may ask, are the “creative industries?”

According to the report unveiled this evening by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee at a gala event hosted by the Harley Davidson Museum, they are “those organizations, individuals and companies whose products and services originate in artistic, cultural, creative and/or aesthetic content.” Specific examples include the usual suspects: cultural institutions like museums, architectural and graphic design companies, media and film producers, visual and performing artists and craftspeople, etc. Other examples, perhaps less obvious, include product designers, music publishers, booksellers, technical writers, art supply businesses, and so on.

To make a long story short, it turns out…drum roll…the arts are good for business, an asset to the community, and important to “the vitality and quality of life throughout the region.”

OK, some of us (I think we’re the ones being called “creatives”) believed this all along. But bravo to the Cultural Alliance and the Greater Milwaukee Committee for bringing it front and center. Mayor Barrett was on hand because, he said, he wants to be “out in front of this parade!”

The report, issued by a consulting firm from Massachusetts, identifies four strategic initiatives. They are, in brief (and with brief commentary!):

“1. Grow the creative industries into a signature regional driver.” I like that – the arts as a signature industry, like Milwaukee’s signature Art Museum (aka “the Calatrava”).

“2. Expand the region’s creative talent base.” For me the most important single phrase in the entire report (which, we were told, totals 100 pages) is part of a subheading under this one: “…including reinstating arts as a high school graduation requirement.” A member of the audience added that education – arts education – can’t begin in high school. This received well deserved applause.

“3. Strengthen the sustainability of the creative industries….” The emphasis here was on “industries.” Again, during the question/answer period, someone observed how often artists and musicians are asked to give of their talents free of charge (I can relate to that!) By all means, we should strengthen everyone’s sustainability. It’ll be a great day when painters, actors, and musicians don’t need a day job to support their own creative industry.

“4. Establish segment councils to integrate creative industries.” There would be three overlapping councils: design, film & media, and cultural.

The bad news is that the “creative industries” are “fragmented, siloed and underresourced.” (Yeah, even MS Word underlined some of that jargon – I believe it means bunkered and underfunded.)

Let’s hope that the Cultural Alliance and the Greater Milwaukee Committee will be able to fulfill the promise of their report and implement the initiatives that they insist will overcome these problems. Better yet, let’s not hope, let’s help. I’m doing what I can.


  1. I see a hopeful link between Milwaukee's reputation as being one of the most segregated cities in the nation, and education, particularly arts education. We will be in a lot of trouble in the coming decades if we don't act now to help these young people. I heard a report that said a city builds prisons to house future inmates based upon test scores of 4th graders.

  2. I agree. One of the initiatives in the report includes the following: "Promote Milwaukee region as a center of excellence in providing high quality creative education for its youth." Clearly one cannot effectively promote something that isn't happening. This initiative is dependent upon a prior initiative to improve the arts education for all in MPS and other area schools. Tall order! But I'm for it.

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  4. This comment was sent to my email by Laura, who said I could post it here.

    Hello Eddee,
    > Interesting arts representation at Harley but are the arts a welfare program? The language, especially “fragmented, siloed and under-resourced." (Yeah, even MS Word underlined some of that jargon – I believe it means bunkered and underfunded.)" reflects how capitalism is an industrial quest and has always devalued the individual. Creativity has only been valued when it can be financially competitive. My only suggestion is to start a union of agreement to not remain dependent on subsidized financial support and start charging the price (that the only people that can purchase art now - wealthy) it deserves. Artists are already subsidizing their work by limping along with other employment (and tidbits thrown out to them, like food scraps with the attitude that they should be grateful for anything at all. As well as, as lot of artists are afraid to speak up because they feel it will impinge on any investors.) They are in a position to hold to a price as a group, set up healthcare groups, and establish the respect and dignity that freedom of innovative thinking deserves in this country. Innovative thinking that has been successful are the ones that market their goods without the welfare jargon. Art education is a different ball game because it does depend on State and Federal funds. I noticed art ed. was not included in, "overlapping councils: design, film & media, and cultural" councils. Start teaching contracting agreements and establishing legal regulations that hold true to written contracts without compromising the artist. The pity party just keeps creative thinkers in a slave trade, while the businessmen and politicians market the ideas for profit. Let me know if there is anything I can do. Not even sure how to start because it almost sounds the the councils are already established.
    > Laura