Let me first get this off my chest: I think MKE Kre8 Kamp is a tad cutesy for the name of the summit I'm attending at Lake Lawn Resort in Delavan. Truth be told, I thought the name of the thing was the Creative Community Summit until a couple of days ago when I got an e-mail announcing live blogging and Tweeting from MKE Kre8 Kamp.
But maybe I'm nitpicking. Well, yes, I am, but I got mixed message on something as simple as the name of the thing I'm spending a hundred bucks and some time on for a couple of weekdays I should be making spreadsheets at my new desk job. And it kind of relates to something I'm learning about our creative community discussion in the Milwaukee region: we suck hard at putting out a clear message of who we are as a creative community.
Case in point--the organizers of this process call us to move to different locations throughout the day by playing music or ringing a cow bell. Honestly a cow bell. I actually heard our out-of-towner leader Leslie say, "Cowbell...gotta have that cuz of where we are."
Okay, not Leslie's fault. Ours. We're not putting out the message that Milwaukee and our region is not a cow bell kind of place.
(Mike Brenner and anyone else listening, I take back anything good I have ever said about Bronze Fonz. It is deadly. Deadly.)
Our rhetoric on what is good about the creative community needs to improve. And it needs to improve fast. We're going to perish not just as a city that attracts artsy types, but simply as a city in general if we don't start talking about Milwaukee in unapologetic tones immediately.
Here's something I need to say: I LOVE MILWAUKEE BECAUSE OUR SHITTY ART DOESN'T SUCK AS MUCH AS CHICAGO'S SHITTY ART. (Okay, I guess that was a little apologetic, but I'm working on it.)
We're all kind of shell shocked with the idea that we do, regardless of your belief in him and his politics, now have a President who really makes being incredibly smart look incredibly cool. I know a lot of incredibly smart people who aren't the President of the United States but are my neighbors, friends and colleagues within a fairly drivable distance of my home who I would call totally cool, too. The question is, how do we put the positive press out on this so other cool people want to move in next door to those cool people and do cool things like, oh, I don't know, improve our education system, support the arts, get the public to understand that art is just great because it's art only because they are all as smart as whips?
So, gleaned thing numero uno: IMPROVE OUR RHETHORIC OR BE RESIGNED TO A LIFE OF COWBELLS AND CHEESEHEADS.
Don't want that. Don't want it at all.
The Creative Community Summit or MKE Kre8 Kamp is a fabulous idea. Fabulous. Fabulous. Fabulous.
I'm supportive of this whole venture. And I continue to be throughout the process. With a couple of asterisks.
I often believe that I write for artists without an institution. That is to say, I like to think of myself as a blogger for the other guys. And I've been reading a lot about what the other guys have been saying about this camp thing (we have camp names like Kayak and Camp Song for individual work stations, for those of you who would actually like to have a little throw up taste in the back of your throats right now).
I am hearing that individual artists are angry about not being at the summit. And I hear ya. I'm a little angry, too. As yet, I've not been able to ask the question about why more individual artists are not here. I'm not entirely clear if they were invited or not, but I am determined to get to the heart of this.
That said, there are some pretty damned smart people in the room talking about the creative community. And let's make this clear--they are talking about the creative community, not just artists.
In fact, there is much less talk about the arts than you would think there might be at something called MKE Kre8 Kamp (which is really fucking hard to type, people). No, the discussion has more to do with what to do with this big old M7 problem.
M7? What is M7, you say. You're looking at it:
Here's some verbage on M7 if you don't like visuals so much (you'd perish at MKE Kre8 Kamp if that was the case because there is much drawing encouraged).
Seven counties united around an agenda to grow, expand and attract world-class businesses and talent
To be globally competitive in an innovation economy
1. Grow, expand and attract existing export driver industries and emerging business clusters
2. Strengthen our capacity to innovate
3. Enhance the competitiveness of the Region
* Per capita income
* Employment growth
* Educational attainment of adult population
* Export value of Wisconsin's manufactured goods
* Net regional migration
Yada, yada, yada, right? This is really what the MKE Kre8 Kamp is about: how does a creative agenda fit into making the Milwaukee region a global player?
Right now the perception by many that it is a marquee item that you support for well intentioned reasons that don't necessarily have much to do with you. Art is good because someone has told you so, some study has said that it prevents kids from pulling the wings off of bees, whatever. I was in a group today that drew a cake (I was the designated drawing dude because I rock hard with a dry erase pen) that represented all the elements of the community (business, education, philanthopic, all that jazz) that displayed the arts as the "icing on the cake." I gulped thinking that the arts were simply the icing on the cake, but the perception in the room was that the cake (the whole) is pretty boring without icing. So I drew and accept that all learning costs something, despite that fact that in this case it might have been a tiny bit of my soul.
But I stray, which is kind of how the day has gone. Focused straying. We are attempting to do months of work in two days. This means short bursts of activity on lots of little tasks. It also means that there isn't much time to dwell. Which isn't a bad thing really.
The most productive moments of the day have been those when participants have been forced to make quick choices. Many people don't understand what to do when a clock is ticking. Mistakes have been made in these situations, and people have had to admit they screwed up. But, you know what? The world didn't stop, and we got a hell of a lot accomplished today.
This is an important point: when we didn't over process and simply act on the sheer force of will, we got things done.
I think mistakes were made with this summit, don't get me wrong. The vetting process of who is and isn't here might have been done better. Donors and arts adminstrators who have their heads up donors asses trying to titilate and impress might not be the most honest participants in this type of an excercise (and they is a little bit of heads up asses drifting around, though I'm happy to say, not much). But the point is, it's happening.
This thing is not THE ULTIMATE SOLUTION. Do I think we come up with the ULTIMATE SOLUTION by 5 PM on Thursday? Hells no. Wally Mason form the Haggerty Museum said a very important thing early in the day that I think is where we should be thinking of ending. He talked about ending these discussions with question marks, not periods.
Now, I'm all for the question marks if they are tangible question marks. Neil Hoffman from MIAD was at my dinner table tonight. The dinner table and the bar are of course where the real work of these things gets done, right? In any event, he put it this way: One day you say, "I'm gonna eat this elephant in front of me. How do I do it?" His answer was you say to one person, "What part of the elephant are you going to eat?" Then you say to another person, "And what part are you going to eat?" Before you know it, the elephant is gone.
I will be disenchanted by this experience if we don't ask how to eat our own elephant by the end of the day tomorrow. If we talk about all this creative community chatter and then walk away with no tasks, we're weak. Really weak.
I want someone to say to me at the end of tomorrow, "What are you going to do?" I can tell you right now, I'll respond with something tangible when I finally get that question. And if I don't, you better believe I'll start asking it myself.