Here is a recap of the Art Build that took place in Milwaukee from April 16th-20th. The event was organized by myself and Susan Simensky Bietila and revolved around a visit by Bay Area arts organizer David Solnit who had suggested the idea months prior. David is a pro at organizing art builds and we wanted to tap into his expertise and energy so Sue, myself, and Pete Railand became the point people for working with three local social justice groups to use the art build as a way to get more art into local movements. I was the point person for Voces de la Frontera – an immigrant rights organization based in Milwaukee that is a force throughout Wisconsin and the group that has hosted the May Day march in Milwaukee for the past ten years. Pete was the point person for the Coalition for Justice – the group organizing the upcoming Dontre Day that is demanding justice for the police murder of Dontre Hamilton. And Sue was the point person for the Milwaukee chapter of C.A.R.S. (Citizens Acting for Rail Safety) that is drawing attention to the dangers of the high volume of oil train traffic that roll through downtown Milwaukee.
Sue and I prior to David’s arrival rented out the upstairs space above Company Brewing in the Riverwest neighborhood and we began the process of gathering materials. I worked extensively with Christine Neumann Ortiz and Sam Singleton-Freeman from Voces getting a list of slogans from them and running images drafts by them before burning screens. Voces decided early on to use Favianna Rodriguez’s iconic butterfly image considering how successful the image had been in a Voces campaign against two anti-immigrant bills in Wisconsin that were defeated after 40,000 plus people demonstrated at the State Capital Building and Latino workers walked off their jobs in a mass action called “A Day Without Latinos.” Pete also did the same process with the Coalition for Justice: running by ideas and image drafts prior to burning screens. Sue is the main arts organizer for C.A.R.S. so she had images ready to go. Plus their group decided early on to use the art build as a means to generate new ideas and new images.
The goals for the Art Build were multifaceted. One goal was to learn from David Solnit during his 6-day visit: to learn how to construct flag banners, etc. and the finer details of his craft that we have all admired for so long. The second was to bring together black, brown, and white organizers and artists in the same space for an art build. A chance to reject the hyper-segregation in the city and for organizers and artists from different movements to become more familiar with each others work. It was also a chance for the small block of Justseeds artists in Milwaukee to collaborate more together. And lastly, and perhaps most practically, it was a chance to to make hundreds of banners, signs, and ephemera for three upcoming marches/actions: The May Day March hosted by Voces de la Frontera on Sunday, May 1st at 2:00pm, the April 30th Dontre Day march at 12:30pm, and the Convergence at the Confluence on July 17th that C.A.R.S. is organizing on the banks of the river and in kyacks as well.
All told, these goals were met. A countless number of people came through the Art Build to take part – planting the seed for future art builds in Milwaukee. We created hundreds of flags, banners, and even a giant Blue Heron puppet. We got to further disseminate our images – new ones and old ones – plus Favi’s iconic butterfly image. And we got to hang out with David more and see this tireless machine in action. No joke he was working non-stop in the space from 8am-12:00 midnight. He also gave a great talk in the space and at UWM that featured Sam on banjo at one point. And nothing – at least from a personal perspective – felt better than delivering 150-plus flags and banners to Voces de la Frontera, a feeling that Pete and Sue will echo with their respective groups.
Thank you to David Solnit for leading the charge for the Art Build, George from Company Brewing for renting out their space, the three groups that we collaborated with, and all who took part in the Art Build. Here are some of the photos that tell part of the story. Most of the photos are from my camera, with a few from the People’s Photographer – aka Joe Brusky.