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Vedale Hill, a local artist, is among Milwaukee Magazine’s 2022 Unity Awards recipients

Headshot of man, Vedale Hill.
Kat Schleicher
Milwaukee Magazine
Vedale Hill for Milwaukee Magazine's 2022 Unity Awards

This month Milwaukee Magazine is featuring winners of their 2022 Unity Awards, highlighting people and organizations making Milwaukee a better place.

One of the featured people is Milwaukee-based artist Vedale Hill. You may have seen hisBlack Lives Matter mural at the intersection of West Locust Street and North Martin Luther King Junior Drive. He also worked with students and SHARP Literacy to create the “Helping Hands” mural at North Martin Luther King Junior Drive and West Garfield Avenue.

In addition to community art, Hill focuses on bettering Milwaukee's Bronzeville neighborhood. He and his brother founded Jazale's Art Studio, a non-profit arts education community youth studio. He also co-founded HomeWorks Bronzeville, a cultural development project that uses the arts to renew the community for artists and current residents sustainably.

Growing up, Hill saw art as a way to support himself financially. "I consider my start as the best of the worst. We didn't have the best systems in schools," Hill says. "My journey began with necessity. I was alright at [art]. I enjoy doing it, but I took it seriously once I started realizing it could help me financially."

Hill names his uncle Richard, a handyman, and his middle school drawing and painting teacher in influencing his work. But the main motivation for taking his work seriously comes from his daughter, Jazale.

Hill beams, "My daughter, her birth, really pushed me to take it seriously when it came to career pathing. When it came to how I wanted to be viewed, how I wanted to be absorbed in this world, it would be through her eyes. I didn't want to make huge mistakes, but I wanted to be honest."

While Hill has an education in art from MIAD, Hill notes he possesses a "street education" that helps him with his work with the community. For him, growing up in Bronzeville and understanding the hustle and bustle of his community is important in understanding the issues that are seen every day.

He recognizes that many young men like him in the community are struggling. Hill says they need to know that options to become an artist are tangible and possible. "I stick to my community first because we're often thought of last when it comes to laws when it comes to resources. We're in food deserts. Education has been decaying over the years. And that is where I'm leading. So that's where I'm gonna go," says Hill.

It's out of this need for space that he and his brother decided to start Jazale's in 2012. Hill was already doing commissions and contracts for the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. While working at these organizations, he saw how the money being put into the programs didn't provide quality lessons. Oftentimes, the programs were supposed to bridge a large need in arts education. Instead, he often saw almost entire school population budgets meant for a few classrooms.

Vedale Hill and his brother knew they could interact with the community more efficiently. "We started to write our own grants, build our own programs, reach out to these families on our own," says Hill. The two made it a priority to never take funds that would mean quantity over quality.

Working in the community that he grew up in has been amazing and difficult, says Hill. For example, seeing his community ignore issues or be ignored, he has witnessed youth die or go to prison. Moreover, he's seen countless spaces crumble after he and his team have invested — they have not only physically crumbled, but also the energy and momentum as well.

Hill adds that it was devastating for children who fall in love with the program to have it be out of range of transportation suddenly. "We had no say in how long [students] could be [at work spaces] if we didn't own anything," says Hill.

Because of this necessity, Hill helped fund HomeWorks Bronzeville. "So we started to look at homeownership and live workspace as a way to build a platform for young artists to not only thrive as individuals but build a long-term community," says Hill.

Hill says he would not change a thing that has led him to where he is now, and although he didn't see himself ever teaching in a classroom, he loves the work he's done. "Hopefully 100, 200, 500 years from now, they're reading about Vedale Hill. And they're using not just my art but also my life as something that should be looked at in a positive light. I absolutely did not see I was going to be who I am, but I love it," says Hill.

Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Kobe Brown was WUWM's fifth Eric Von fellow.
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