Art Works Blog

MICD 25 Spotlight on Milwaukee

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Creativity Works! The Milwaukee Regional Creative Economy Project. Photo courtesy Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee

Since 2005, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee (CAGM) has served a seven-county region in southeast Wisconsin that is home to more than two million residents. CAGM's yearlong, multi-phase creative economy project---Creativity Works!---is designed to integrate the area's not-for-profit arts and culture sector, for-profit creative businesses, and individual artists into one industry. Activities supported by CAGM's MICD 25 grant include the development of a detailed strategic action plan and the mapping of the region's creative assets and locations. We spoke with CAGM President and Executive Director Christine Harris to learn more about the project.

NEA: Please give a brief description of your project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Greater Milwaukee.

CHRISTINE HARRIS: Creativity Works! is designed to establish a regional "creative industries" economic sector in Southeast Wisconsin. The goal is to elevate the identity, value, contribution, and potential of our creative industries. It is designed to stimulate jobs, new business development, attract and retain talent, and help sustain our nonprofit arts and culture. We have taken an economic development approach and have hired Mt. Auburn Associates, an economic development consultancy firm to facilitate this project.

Our hope is that Creativity Works! will build on our region's authentic and unique creative resources to foster a culture of creativity and innovation that will continually drive benefits to the community. We have a wonderful foundation to work with---a rich local history of commitment to culture, arts, and heritage that has continued for more than 100 years and flourishes today; a "maker" economy whose businesses came from a strong foundation of entrepreneurship; and our famed Midwestern work ethic, to name a few. With these, we hope that this project will generate jobs and enterprises, enhance competitiveness of this and related economic sectors, attract and retain talent, revitalize communities and neighborhoods, encourage entrepreneurship, and broaden markets. Perhaps most important, we'd like to combine our famed Midwestern work ethic with an equally strong culture of creativity and innovation so that our region is consistently in the forefront of authentically based development.

NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?

HARRIS: Arts and culture represent the expression of who we are, what we think, what we dream, and how we are inspired. They are what threads the fabric of our connection together. In that process, they make such a contribution to our quality of life that great cities are reflective of great art. They help revitalize and stabilize neighborhoods, they contribute to student development through arts education, and they often add economic value by the work they do, the beautification of their output, and bringing it to local markets.

If arts and culture are at the table, community initiatives have a significant coalescing tool. They not only produce economic value in their own right, but they help connect and leverage other community initiatives to produce a 'holistic' development.

Also, if arts and culture are not at the planning table from the beginning, arts and culture won't be valued as an equal resource and then won't be able to make the full connective contribution to community growth.

NEA: How would you describe public art?

HARRIS: Public art---art available free for public view no matter who funds it---is a highly visible manifestation of a city's, or a region's, commitment to the arts, certainly, and it contributes to the "vibe" of a locale. Its presence says, "Yes, we are a community that cares enough to put something beautiful, or thought provoking, or informative, into our public space and discourse---and we welcome those who want to live and work here and be part of that conversation." In this way, public art adds to the vitality of a community and increases its attractiveness for creative talent and organizations.

NEA: How can mapping and leveraging a region?s cultural/creative assets impact that region across all sectors?

HARRIS: We can't develop a strategic community cultural vision if we don't know what we have, where it is, and how all of the pieces interact with each other. Linking and leveraging our current assets has to inform what development is appropriate within the creative industries. Simultaneously, this activity will demonstrate the connections and the opportunities for deeper and broader asset building.

Early Creativity Works! research indicated that many local business leaders are not aware of the breadth and depth of creative talent available to them in their own back yard. By inventorying and mapping these assets---essentially people and enterprises---we can inform and educate business leaders in all sectors about the specifics of the nationally recognized creative talent they have available to them locally. We expect that this will generate more business for creatives with other industry sectors locally as well as elevate the value of the creative industries.

NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?

HARRIS: The MICD 25 funding is crucial to the success of the project in this challenging economic environment, and the NEA's support adds immense value and prestige. In addition to supporting the planning phase of Creativity Works!, MICD 25 support will also help us plan an early implementation project, a "creatives in residence" program, which we hope will be a national model. We have already observed the positive impact on both artist and host organization of the unique artist residency program at The Pfister Hotel which is now in its second year---they, among others, will be advising us as we bring this new project to scale in a wide variety of organizations with an equally wide variety of creatives.

Federal support, such as the MICD 25 grant and the US Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration grant, provide stimulus for local private monies. It provides a credibility that is carried throughout the project and significantly helps our community feel proud and respectful of this work. This is especially important for our project because it is so leading edge and unfamiliar to most people.

NEA: Any last words?

HARRIS: We've been fortunate to establish some new territory for our regional creative sector with the federal support we've received from the NEA and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. We're trying some innovative approaches to both planning and implementation and we plan to continue to do that. We intend to be thought leaders in this area---both by empowering a great creative economic engine in our region and by connecting current and future creative economy work around the globe.

Visit the MICD 25 page on the NEA website to learn more about all of the MICD 25 projects.

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