Thursday, April 02, 2009

Can we save Janet Zweig's art? We need to try.

I'll admit, I didn't really know who Janet Zweig was until a few weeks ago. You can read more about her through Mary Louise Schumacher's really superb background on Janet's public art project and the whole debacle of how it might be squashed without some proactive movement from the arts community at ArtCity. Thank goodness for MLS. She's really the biggest arts advocate we've got in Milwaukee (the smartest and the best written, too, if you ask me).

The issue is this: the arts community has a responsibility to get involved in policy decisions on the city level. This is a policy decision. We are deciding if we want to be a creative city, one that vigorously takes an attitude about having art as a part of our everyday life. Janet Zweig's project does that perfectly. She integrates art into the mundane street life of Milwaukee. The money has been approved, there is nothing to gain by killing this project, but much to be lost if we as an arts community do not take affirmative action and tell the aldermen on the Common Council's Public Works Committee that Zweig's project is important, and has everything going for it as a real potentially engaging public arts project.

So, what do we do. Let's make our pleas reasonable and personal. Let's contact the people that matter as a big, growing force of positive advocates As a member of the Creative Coalition task force, I am also sending the following short letter to my fellow members immediately stressing the importance of all of us to take some immediate action:

Dear Task Force Leaders,

I'm not above writing this letter and saying that if we do not take immediate action as a group in terms of the debacle going on over Janet Zweig's public art project, that we are only going to be seen as a toothless group that likes to meet and discuss things and never take action. This is an important moment in the creative future of our city. Let's figure out a time when a good number of us can meet and City Hall and organize face time with alderman to help explain why this is an important project to support.

Let's do it. Let's take a chance. It's time to get in the game.

We are talking a lot on an organizing level as a community about changing the rhetoric about arts advocacy in this community and its value in the lives of all our citizens. Talk is good, but there comes a time when you finally have to say, "I don't know if I can run the marathon, but I sure feel like trying." It's that time.

Individually, I strongly urge you all to contact the members of the Public Works
Committee for the Common Council. These are the names and addresses of the alderman to contact:

ALderman Robert Bauman:
Alderman Robert Donovan:
Alderman Joe Dudzik:
Alderman Robert Puente:
Alderman Willie Wade:

If you're looking for inspiration on what to write, I'm including the letter I have sent.

Dear Aldermen Bauman, Donovan, Dudzik, Puente and Wade,

As a concerned citizen and a member of the Milwaukee arts community, I am writing to strongly urge you to not block the implementation of Janet Zweig's public art project.

Ms. Zweig's inspired project puts into form the essence of what is great about our city: a celebration of the old and the new. Her planned project shows a great understanding of our civic personality, a joy for the rich traditions that have made our city one of the finest places in the nation to live and work, and an unambiguous expression that Milwaukee is a place where creativity fundamentally exists on every street corner and city street.

Her work on this project will ultimately be supported by local artists and arts enthusiasts. It is a tremendous example of a well-reasoned plan for civic pride through creative interactivity. The project has already been evaluated by a group of our state's leading arts professionals, and I see it as a thrilling way for our city to continue to promote itself as a metropolitan area that prides itself on creativity and community building.

Ms. Zweig's project is an important one that I believe in strongly and hope you will ultimately support.


Jonathan West

All we can do is try. If we don't we only have ourselves to blame.


Paula said...

I just wrote to the aldermen. Thanks for posting about this and thanks for the link to MLS's posting. Let's hope more people read this and send emails.

Mary Dally-Muenzmaier said...

Well said, Mr. Schmartsy.

k said...

this was mine earlier:

I’ve been following the emerging controversy regarding Janet Zweig’s public art project thanks to Mary Louise Schumacher’s updates and people communicating on MARN’s listserve.

I suspect that some of the council’s reservations have to do with spending in a time of recession. At the same time, my understanding from Schumacher that this money is already allocated; contracts are signed; bills are due. Some of the reported reactions from the council had to do with money; most seemed focused on artistic merit.

When this project has been in the works for three years, why is merit at issue right now? When the project has been not only approved but supported and encouraged by a number of artistic and cultural leaders such as David Gordan, Pegi Taylor, Jill Sebastian, Schumacher, and Curtis Carter, why is it now being shut down?

The reported statements included “ridiculous,” and “too old school.” I hope you’ll agree that there’s not going to be a consensus about the value of a piece of art. One alderman (I can’t find a specific reference to which of you spoke this) bravely, knowing the flak he was going to get, said that he wouldn’t pay 50 cents for the Mona Lisa. I think he acknowledges the place that this painting has in the world, and that it’s not for him. I see nothing wrong with this.

Public art projects in Milwaukee have an unpleasant history, the Blue Shirt being the biggest example in oh-so-many ways. Janet Zweig’s proposal is aware of this history. She has designed a project that is interactive. It is not a potential eyesore. It invites participation; it does not demand it. Not only that, she invites Milwaukeeans to re-visit our own city. The works that will go inside the old-school flip-art are to be created by local artists. The money is coming back to the city. How is this a bad thing?

It seems to me that there is no satisfactory solution to the discussion of merit. One is too big. One is too old-school. One is not site-specific enough. Come on, most people who’ve actually seen the Mona Lisa are disappointed by how freaking small it is. There is always something wrong. Zweig’s proposal has so much that is right. I ask you to release the funds that are already designated. Please honor the spirit of the project – which is generosity – and let it offer itself to our city. said...

i concur. come on Milwaukee!! get your act together! this is a good thing!

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