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Designers seek to catalyze city against racism

Louis Weisberg, Staff writer

The twin problems of segregation and racial inequality have plagued Milwaukee for so long that even people who care about them seem to have given up hope that the situation will ever improve. Worse, most people in the city — particularly white people — have become so accustomed to the city’s racist landscape that it’s grown invisible to them, says Ken Hanson, CEO of Hanson Dodge Creative.

But Hanson has not given up hope, and he believes that raising awareness will spur positive change. At Milwaukee City Hall on July 15, he joined with others, including Mayor Tom Barrett, to launch the Greater Together Challenge. An innovative competition, the challenge’s goal is to generate ideas that will bring visibility to the city’s racial divide, as well as ideas to bridge it.

The concept originated as a way to mark the 100th anniversary of AIGA Wisconsin. The state’s largest association of design professionals, AIGA Wisconsin has a membership of more than 250,000. Designers, artists, musicians and filmmakers will play a major role in gearing up for the challenge and helping to present the winning ideas.

“We are leveraging the power of design to elevate the work of organizations such as the NAACP, the ACLU, Centro Hispano and our teachers’ union, which have spent generations raising their voices around issues of race and fairness,” said Chris Klein, AIGA Wisconsin’s president, in a press statement. “Many of us are new to these battles, but we want to offer our skills and be helpful in any way we can.” 

“A visible, united effort like the Greater Together Challenge could be the catalyst for change our city needs,” said James Hall, president of the Milwaukee branch of the NAACP, also in a press release.

Partners in the challenge include scores of civic and public advocacy nonprofits, schools, unions, media outlets, churches and other groups. NEWaukee — a “social architecture firm that inspires a collision of all Milwaukee has to offer” — will be integral during the four-month awareness campaign preceding the contest. So will filmmakers, such as MIAD graduate Xavier Ruffin, and musicians.

Hanson said the challenge is not designed to stir debate, but rather “to take the debate out of it and work on solutions.”

“I’m trying to build a campaign that’s attractive and hopeful and seductive. A lot of us feel good when we can just talk to each other about these things,” he added.

Performers will write songs about segregation that will be played on local radio stations, including project partner 88Nine Radio Milwaukee. Mike Benign, who leads the popular Wisconsin band The Mike Benign Compulsion, is writing a song about Father Groppi, a Milwaukee Roman Catholic priest who became a leader in the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

“A lot of people are good people in their daily lives, but they compartmentalize,” Hanson said. “They don’t want to deal with black people. But they don’t even think that they don’t want to deal with black people. Are people sitting down to dinner and talking about segregation? I want to make it so that happens.”

Throughout the summer, the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion will organize small-group dialogues across Milwaukee to brainstorm ideas and help shape proposals for the challenge. A professionally trained facilitator will guide each group in discussions about segregation and economic inequality.

The ideas submitted for the challenge can take virtually any form, from a school curriculum to a work of public art. Hanson said at least 100 proposals must be submitted in order for the challenge to be viable. The deadline for submissions to be filed online at www.greatertogether.me is Sept. 7.

A panel of advocates, scholars, civic leaders and other representatives from the Greater Together Coalition will select 10 ideas as finalists on Sept. 14. The creators of those ideas will be paired with a design team to help make their presentation as compelling and effective as possible.

On Oct. 7, each finalist will have 6 minutes to present his or her idea to the panel. The winner, who will be announced the next day, will receive a grant of $5,000 to aid in the implementation of the idea.

Following the challenge, the Greater Together Foundation will be created to continue focusing on key social justice issues and to raise funds for other submitted ideas that organizers feel merit support.

On the web…

To enter or to learn more about the Greater Together Challenge and Milwaukee’s segregation crisis, visit http://www.greatertogether.me.

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