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Why Does Milwaukee’s Art Scene Drag?

March 20, 2009

Foot on Fonz  (photo by kellyhafermann)

Foot on Fonz (photo by kellyhafermann)

Not enough kids with trust funds?   I don’t know.

Over at Decider, there’s a fun discussion going on over whether SXSW breaks any new bands these days.  The comment trail inevitably leads back to the anemic art scene in Milwaukee, which has been widely discussed in the art community and recently the aim of something weekend workshop with a really stupid name (I honestly can’t remember the name and googling isn’t helping matters).

It’s not that art is dead here — far from it — but that bands, artists and writers living here exist on a plane well below their fellow artists in larger cities and well below the general population here.  Take, for example, Austin, a mecca for Richard Florida’s “creatives.”  The city actively includes them in the day to day life of the city because they know what side their tax base bread is buttered on; without the inter-connected presence of artists and tech savvy workers Austin would cease to be an attractive option for a lot of the people choosing to move there every year.  Can we really say the same for Milwaukee?  If you think about it, we’re currently in the middle of a long-running dispute over the excessive benefits we’re giving to our soon-to-be-retiring baby boomers and our greatest philanthropist just turned 85.   We want to build out our largest college’s engineering facilities in an area that’s devoid of the walkable urban space younger generations indicate they want to live in, and we trumpet a summer festival 15 years behind the times as “cool.”   In so many ways, we’re dominated by an aging self-centered generation that refuses to share the spotlight with the younger self-centered generation.

Nevertheless, we have a thriving underground art scene in Milwaukee that many of our fellow citizens passionately care about.   But the direction that the mainstream community takes to promote our arts scene completely leaves them left out.   We have a lot of very smart and creative people making art in our city in darkness.   If we want to stop having a discussion about our “brain drain,” maybe we should find ways to include them rather than come up with marketing hyperbole that keeps them in the shadows.


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