A Milwaukee design organization is spending the summer on its most complex composition yet: A plan for desegregation in the metro area.
That’s the idea behind the Greater Together Challenge, a citywide contest launched by the local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, which will match Milwaukee designers with community groups that are calling for change in one of America’s most segregated areas.
Through Sept. 7, Milwaukee-area residents can submit ideas on the Greater Together website for initiatives and events that could tackle Milwaukee’s segregation, such as rallies, panel discussions or school programs. A panel of advocates and civic leaders on the Greater Together Coalition will then select 10 finalists to be paired with designers, who will help present and promote the ideas.
The challenge was launched Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at a City Hall news conference, which drew artists, activists and filmmakers.
The conference started with the Milwaukee gospel group the Queens of Harmony, which got many in the crowd clapping to a song about reuniting with Jesus in heaven.
Mayor Tom Barrett followed with a decidedly less melodic address about Milwaukee’s need to challenge its own problems with segregation. He said that by proposing plans for urban desegregation, the Greater Together Challenge has implications for similar problems far beyond the Milwaukee area.
Greater Together Chairman Ken Hanson cited several studies about segregation in Milwaukee that he said “really hurt” him to read, including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s recent “Dividing Lines” series on Wisconsin’s political polarization and studies naming Wisconsin as the worst state to raise African American children.
Hanson stressed the importance of getting submissions for the Greater Together Challenge not only from Milwaukee residents but also from people in the suburbs. He noted that the Frank Zeidler Center for Public Discussion will be reaching out to churches in Milwaukee’s suburbs to spread awareness of the contest.
Other speakers included James Hall, president of Milwaukee’s NAACP chapter, and Milwaukee Institute of Arts and Design President Neil Hoffman, who said that the arts can be “vehicles for change” in a community that is “aching” for advancement.
In a Q&A session after the conference, some people shared skepticism about the challenge and whether it would have real-world results. Shorewood resident Lee Abbott, 33, asked Hanson if a design contest is more effective than a straightforward political movement tackling desegregation.
Hanson said that two are connected in this case, and referenced the influence of street artist Shepard Fairey’s popular social media campaign for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign.
“What we’re trying to design is a political movement,” Hanson said.
Finalists for the Greater Together Challenge will present their plans on Oct. 7, and the winners will receive $5,000.