Where Do I Live?
An obscured view from a gymnasium closet inspired me to sharpen my focus on my community.
On November 8, 2016, Kathryn and I met at home after a long day of teaching, and made our way to the Cedarburg Community Center to vote in the presidential election. Cedarburg is relatively active when it comes to voting, but this was the first time we saw the line overflow out of the building into the crisp autumn night. When we finally made it in through the doorway I was struck by the sweet smell of cold sweat mixed with elegant old lady perfume. There were work boots and business suits and the tension of the event was palpable.
It took us quite a while (as it always does in the district 1 line) to snake around the old gymnasium. At a certain point I was re-acquainted with the smells of my elementary school days - we found ourselves waiting in a gym closet next to racks of basketballs and kickballs and I found myself growing nostalgic for the Kennedy-era fitness drills we were doing in the early 90’s -remember the shuttle run?
It wasn’t until were were out in the open, in full view of the District 1 check-in table that I began to wonder what kind of a community I was living in. I wondered if those Allen Edmonds shoes were representative of a lifestyle out of touch with the needs of a social safety net; or, if that mother with her three kids hanging over her cared about the fact that we have always only had men in the President’s office? This environment seemed to kick my liberal arts style of inquiry into gear, and I wondered and questioned silently throughout my slow shuffle over the scuffed gym floor. All that went away when I faced the familiar faces of the retirees performing their civic duty with gusto. It’s not quite TSA, but checking in and proving your identity is always taken very seriously.
We know how things went that night. We know about the Inauguration and the Women’s March, and a strange two years of tweets, and an evolving Supreme Court, and the growing influence of late night clowns.
As I reflect upon my life in Cedarburg, and investigate the identity and character of this little city north of Milwaukee, I find myself returning to November 8, 2016. I now feel far enough removed from the potency of that night to give it another look and to attempt to sift out some meaning. Throughout this project I will also compare and contrast my experience at home with that of my experience in and around Milwaukee. Here’s an example of one way to put things into perspective:
When I think back to my voting experience, I saw many people participating in our democratic republic. Though, my memory is peppered with faces that look somewhat similar. Remembering this night made me wonder - What is the racial and ethnic breakdown of Cedarburg? Here’s what I found:
I know Cedarburg is a homogenous community in regards to race and ethnicity, but this was my first time viewing the breakdown visually. It’s striking. It also conjures questions about how this impacts our community. Plus, it causes me to wonder what this looks like in reference to the city of Milwaukee?
Below is a map that shows the concentrations of voting in the 2016 Presidential election. The contrast between the city of Milwaukee and its surrounding communities makes me wonder if the lack of racial and ethnic diversity has much to do with how we vote? I plan to dig in deeper into this topic in upcoming posts.
I am an artist drawn to social movement. For three years my focus has been set on the City of Milwaukee - a place with all sorts of social rhythms, patterns, and movements. Milwaukee is where I work and play, and explore and learn. I once lived on Humboldt Blvd and it was there that I became intimately familiar with the unfolding drama of winter-time parking problems. I worked at a gas station that was technically Milwaukee, Whitefish Bay, and Shorewood, all at the same time - talk about complexity. I worked there for years and received a minimum wage education that could easily take down my BFA experience in only a few rounds. I learned about gas prices and the recession. I was robbed at gun point and only a day later felt the extreme of human generosity. Milwaukee captured this artist’s heart, and it has been the main focus of my artist residency at Cardinal Stritch University since August of 2016.
Work & Movement
In so many ways we are workers first. This is a visual representation of how work impacts the movements in my life.
When my wife (Kathryn) and I were hired in our fist teaching jobs, however, we found ourselves looking for a center point between Milwaukee and Washington County. Our schools were in different worlds, and 45 minutes was about all we were willing to commute. We searched for a compromise, but were also looking for a community with its own visible culture. We found our home in Cedarburg. We found a beat up little foreclosure, a HUD house that gave us an opportunity to live in a community we would otherwise never be able to afford. We have spent years fixing up our home, and occasionally exploring our community, but for the most part commuting out of our satellite city in opposite directions, to go to and from work.
One of the most interesting community happenings I have witnessed in the five years I have lived in Cedarburg has been the growth of a community organization called Bridge the Divide. According to the Cedarburg Public Library website, BTD “is a forum for discussion and action around racial reconciliation. The group seeks to identify instances of inequality, foster empathy, and educate others to recognize their part in the problems and solutions in Ozaukee County.”
In an attempt to capture some community attention, BTD’s first meeting at the library featured the founder of ZIP MKE, Dominic Inouye. Dominic shared his “powerful photography exhibit, and how he seeks to expand social perspectives in Milwaukee's 28 zip codes.”
I couldn’t believe it - Cedarburg, my sleepy little “Door County of southeastern Wisconsin” was actively embracing the diversity of Milwaukee. Someone cared enough to bring the wide range of faces and places from Milwaukee into our place. It was by coincidence that I heard about the meeting, as I had partnered with Dominic in the past. He asked for some help in setting up, I agreed, and ended up finding the change agents in my home community.
The ZIP MKE meeting happened in February of 2018. After Dominic shared his ideas with the small-ish gathering, the night was turned over to Erica Turner. Erica explained the basics of what Bridge the Divide was all about, and launched into a discussion on what bias is and how to identify it within ourselves. This was new! It was complex, and difficult, and a breath of fresh air.
Bridge the Divide presents a TED Talk on Racial Literacy back in October.
Kathryn and I have been to almost all of the Bridge the Divide meetings, and each one leaves us thinking and talking, and in many cases, participating. The group has grown from around a dozen people to anywhere from 40 to 60 community members per meeting. Speakers, panel discussions, movie outings, and even social gatherings are organized out of Bridge the Divide. It will undoubtedly be an emphasis point for the Create Space Cedarburg project. I hope the art can serve the mission of the group.
"What Does Cedarburg Look Like?" will be the driving question for the early part of this project. Observation is at the forefront of the Create Space process. My main goal for now is to observe the community of Cedarburg, as well as its relationship to the City of Milwaukee, and simply notice things.* I will collect my findings here.
*I will use what I call “Community Lenses” to focus my attention thematically. The lenses are Leadership, Transportation, Work, Gender, Space, Race, Entertainment, and Education. The lenses are the strategic focal points that point me towards the people, places, and ideas that are shaping the city in positive and powerful ways.