One of the things I've been meaning to write about and never got the chance has been the ongoing public discussion of a proposed public art installation in downtown Milwaukee by renowned artist Janet Zweig.
The discussion first came to my attention via the Art City Blog written by Mary Louise Schumacher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. [When the JS redesigned their site and screwed up all their feeds a couple of months back I stopped reading most of their specialty content, with the exception Schumacher and Tom Held's "Off the Couch" blog -- excellent stuff which makes a strong case for the importance of beat journalism]. At any rate, no sooner did I find out about this project (around March 31), that it was pummeled by politicians who clearly never had an art literacy program in their schools.
The "I wouldn't pay 50 cents for the Mona Lisa" comment will surely make "Dumbest Things Ever Said In Milwaukee" lists for years.
I don't know what it was about this near-defeat compared to so many others Milwaukee's Creative Community has faced in the 10 years I've lived here, but the troops were rallied. Yes, there was Mike Brenner grandstanding again, but this time he seemed to balance it out with enough thoughtful commentary (or maybe it's because I actually know him now, not just as the "crazy Bronze Fonz hater guy") that people took him much more seriously. Most local blogs, publications and even TV news (unable to find link) featured the issue. Spreenkler held an arts panel. The suits sorta, kinda tried to engage the artists (although it sounds like they could improve). Facebook causes formed and Twitter has been on fire for weeks.
Suddenly those in favor of the project realized that something bigger than just getting an issue passed was happening. Regardless of whether or not their opinions were in agreement, people were TALKING ABOUT ART. A public discourse was at hand. Most people were making sound and educated arguments, not just spewing forth regurgitated talking points from one political party or another.
It also became evident that the "other team's" constant bemoaning argument about "tax and spend," "liberal agenda," blah blah blah, wasn't going to work this time. We had a solid economic counterpoint -- this artist would be reinvesting $60,000 into the local economy by hiring local artists and manufacturers to assist with the project. I also think people are starting to "get" that government funds ARE already allocated to certain areas and when it comes from the feds it can't get reallocated to a different slot. If we did not use this money we would lose it. Perhaps the recent streetcar reallocation woke people up?
Personally I was so bombarded with information that I did respond to the calls to action. My alderman, Bauman, was already in favor of the project, but I emailed the full council to express my support and even called Alderman Puente after hearing via Twitter that he was on the fence. [Side note, it would be really handy if the Common Council had a group email like CommonCouncil@___.gov and committee emails (i.e. PublicWorksComm@__.gov)]
Perhaps it was just a perfect storm of factors: social media, a strong voice from "mainstream" media, a growing movement to make Milwaukee a progressive city again that brought us all together on this issue. Whatever it was, it worked.
Just like last November's election, the project's blowout win at the full Common Council meeting today showed what coordinated mobilization can do.
What I find encouraging is that the local politics ball has either a) been dropped for years and/or b) been hogged by the right wing radio guys. I think the initial defeat on the Zweig was the big final wake up call.
WE STOLE THE BALL BACK.
And hopefully we'll keep it up.
And hopefully we'll keep it up.