Milwaukee shows its creative side
In January 2011, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee contributed to a report on the economic strength of the creative industries of the seven-county region.
"Creative Industries: A New Economic Growth Opportunity for the Milwaukee 7 Region" emphasized the value of creative industries in Milwaukee's economy. The report recommended plans of action for growth in the industry – and most importantly it changed changed the direction of the Cultural Alliance itself.
"The Cultural Alliance at the time was like a chamber of commerce for the arts group in Milwaukee. We know that the arts group is a key segment in the community but we know there are these other for-profit sectors that are related so we expanded our charge and developed this organization that basically is about connecting, promoting and growing creative industries," said Jill Morin.
An author, activist and former executive officer at Kahler Slater Architects, Morin now co-chairs the board of the Cultural Alliance's new manifestation: Creative Alliance Milwaukee.
On Sept. 21, the Creative Alliance hosts the Creative Milwaukee At Work Conference. This inaugural summit will feature panel discussions, a keynote address by film producer Jack Turner, a high-tech trade show and workshops for the creative workforce of Milwaukee.
But what – or who – exactly makes up Creative Milwaukee? The term "creativity" can be frustratingly vague, all-encompassing or relative.
Morin said that's the idea. "What we know about creativity is that it flourishes under diverse conditions," she said. "So if someone says to me, 'That's a pretty broad theme,' I say, 'Well, yeah. Purposely so.'"
The group identified a definition of the word that is distinct to Milwaukee, however.
"We found a consultant (for the report) who creates community development and research all over the world. They said that every community defines their creative industry differently," said Morin. "Austin is based on music, for instance. That makes sense, right? So what we ended up with in terms of our definition was that, for us, it's not about the creative process. Anybody can be creative.
"For us in Milwaukee, it's about those organizations or individuals that have some kind of creative outcome to their work. An architect and a building, a writer and a book. A dancer."
It is a fitting observation for a city that has long been known for the strength of its manufacturing industry. Pride in Milwaukee-made products runs deep in this city; now, perhaps, pride in Milwaukee-made creativity can, too.
Applying the parameters of this definition to the area's workforce, Creative Alliance Milwaukee identified 67,000 workers and 4,100 organizations and companies that fit the bill.
"That's almost as large as the construction industry in the Milwaukee region," said Morin. "Our creative industry in this region is almost as large as Atlanta's."
The reason for the conference, said Morin, is simple: people need to realize the strength of the creative industry.
"One of the things we kept hearing from our members – they said, 'Can you help me promote the fact that I'm here?' So many of the large corporations in town go to New York or Los Angeles or Chicago for their creative talent. We have world-class creative talent here. But people don't know about it."
Thus was born the idea for Creative Milwaukee at Work.
"Let's spend a day celebrating the creative talent that we already have here and then have other people learn from them, hearing stories about their creative processes," said Morin. "That way we're connecting and learning from each other but at the same time promoting and creating local talent."
Jack Turner, an award-winning film producer who grew up in Milwaukee, will open and close the conference with remarks that will highlight how this community facilitated his formation as an artist. Other presenters will include employees of Kahler Slater Architects, who will discuss the branding and cultural communications required by their clients; Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, who will present on the topic of creative entrepreneurship; and James Lohmiller, creator of HollenWolff cufflinks.
"He (Lohmiller) could have started a company anywhere," said Morin. "And he picked Milwaukee because he grew up here, to start a company making high-end cufflinks using a manufacturing and industrial process."
The company's tagline is: "We come from a place where motorcycles are made like jewelry and jewelry is made like motorcycles."
Two panel discussions will focus on creative education. Representatives from Alverno College, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, MIAD and Mount Mary College will address the topic of creative curriculum for current and future workforces. Bob Schwartz of GE will head a lunch discussion addressing creative development; that panel will include representatives of of the United Performing Arts Fund, Quad Graphics and Hanson Dodge Creative as well as local artist Reggie Baylor.
The entirety of the conference will be held at MIAD, with a post-conference salon at Cramer-Kasselt, Milwaukee's largest ad agency. At the salon participants will the question, "How can we make West Wisconsin Avenue come alive again?"
"A creative and forward-thinking workforce makes Milwaukee more attractive to both potential employers and potential employees," said Betsy Brown, executive vice president and general manager at Cramer-Kasselt. "The more we can do to expand the conversation about how creativity positively impacts Milwaukee's economy, the better. That prompted us to open our doors for the post-conference salon so the conversation can continue once the conference ends."
Tickets to the conference are $100 and include breakfast, lunch, refreshments and admission to the trade show. Tickets to the post-conference salon at Cramer-Kasselt are an additional $10 and are limited to the first 50 registrants.
"My hope is that people come away being inspired," said Morin. "Our goal is not only to connect people, but we want them to walk away with creativity they can use the next day. It will be unlike anything that anyone's ever done."
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