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MIAD's 'Growing Resistance' exhibition shines a light on Milwaukee unsung community guardians

Michael Carriere with MSOE and Hj Bullard with MIAD are two of the exhibition curators. They're standing in front of works created by TRUE Skool students.
Susan Bence
Michael Carriere with MSOE and Hj Bullard with MIAD are two of the exhibition curators. They're standing in front of works created by True Skool students.

Growing Resistance - Untold Stories of Milwaukee’s Community Guardians highlights people who are often overlooked but work tirelessly to improve Milwaukee neighborhoods and the lives of residents.

The exhibition is open now through March 2 at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design's Brook Stevens Gallery.

“What we’re trying to do is document histories of Milwaukee that are often overlooked or ignored and highlighting individuals and organizations and individuals we’ve termed community guardians who are doing this day-to-day work,” says Michael Carriere, a professor of history at the Milwaukee School of Engineering and runs its honors program.

Photographs, artifacts and art help weave together the rich stories of Milwaukee, beginning with what’s called The Roots of Resistance.

"We try to lay out exactly sort of what the environments the contemporary activists are trying to address. So we look at things like highway construction and other urban renewal legacies … the impact of industrialization … of police brutality on certain communities," Carriere says. "And we try to show how that these histories aren't over yet."

He points to a photograph of a vacant home on North 18th and West Fond du Lac Avenue in Milwaukee.

One of Milwaukee's vacant homes.
David Schalliol
One of Milwaukee's vacant homes.

“This is a home owned by an out-of-state property holder. And how these firms are essentially taking advantage of some of these earlier histories by purchasing these homes and then essentially extracting as much profit very quickly and then allowing them to rot,” Carriere says. “Trying to again set the stage for work that’s being done today."

MSOE students explored the issue in an honors program project. Carriere says incorporating the stories and experiences of Milwaukee residents was critical to the exhibition.

It begins with a poem written and voiced by Milwaukee-based poet Dasha Kelly Hamilton.

“So one of the nice things about this exhibition is we allow artists to tell those stories. And often those artists are a part of the efforts we’re trying to document,” Carriere says.

The exhibition highlights the work of TRUE Skool students and Voces de la Frontera.

The work of Voces de la Frontera is represented in the exhibition.
Susan Bence
Artists create pieces to punctuate the work of Voces de la Frontera. Artists - left to right - Au Ma Mer, Janette Arellano, Nicolas Lampert and John Fleissner

“So this idea of trying to bring in voices that aren’t often a part of an an exhibition like this, but also aren’t often in conversation with one another and so one of the things we’re trying to do, at least for me personally, is thinking about what makes a city sustainable,” he says.

Carriere’s fellow curators are Simone Ferro with Milwaukee Through Embodied Research and the UW-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts; Arijit Sen with the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture & Urban Planning; and Hj Bullard who teaches service learning and writing at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.

Milwaukee Through Embodied Research dancers during rehearsal for performance during the exhibition's January 18 opening reception.
Simone Ferro
Milwaukee Through Embodied Research dancers during rehearsal for performance during the exhibition's January 18 opening reception.

“All of us have been involved in this work, in some cases, for 10, 15, 20 years, and so I think the first step has been establishing those relationships where we’re able to go so someone like Evelyn Terry, whose work is here and say ‘Evelyn, we see you as an important part of the community and the story. We want to have you in the show' and have her say, ‘That would be great,’ Carriere explains. “For me, that first step has been establishing those relationships, and that it does not happen overnight.”

Fellow curator Hj Bullard says Growing Resistance is unique to other exhibitions that have been staged at MIAD.

xx by Evelyn Patricia Terry
Susan Bence
Fred Hampton Tribute series by Evelyn Patricia Terry

Not only does it feature respected artist Evelyn Patricia Terry, whose body of work ranges from printmaking to public art, “There’s also people that would never have called themselves artists before. There’s also student work, social practitioners, organization leaders, and block leaders, and we, as Mike said, we kind of think of them as community guardians, all of them,” Bullard says.

They hope the exhibition and programming that will unfold over the coming weeks will inspire deeper conversations across the city, including at the March 2 closing event at the Milwaukee Public Library — downtown location.

“[It’s] called What’s Next, Community Story Circle and we’re hoping to have a conversation there about what does the community feel that should happen next … You can see how much there is in this show and how many threads of stories are interwoven … what would they like to happen?” Bullard says.


Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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