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What's Next for the People's Flag of Milwaukee?

Courtesy of Milwaukee Flag

Every April 14, people celebrate Milwaukee Day. It's an annual celebration of the day the city's area code matches the date and a show of civic pride. But the effort to foster civic pride in Milwaukee extends far beyond April the 14th. 

Graphic Designer Steve Kodis has been leading the charge for the creation of a new Milwaukee Flag for about three years, through the People's Flag of Milwaukee movement. Last year, the “Sunrise Over the Lake” flag, created by Robert Lenz, was chosen as the design for the People’s Flag. But the Milwaukee Common Council has yet to weigh in on the decision, and a year later the original flag is still the city’s official flag.

Both Kodis and Lenz believe the city's current flag is too busy and outdated, a critique that has plagued the flag for a while. 

Credit Svgalbertian / Wikimedia
Current flag of Milwaukee, created by Fred Steffan in 1954.

"Flags are symbols in the sense that they take color, they take shapes, and they apply meaning to those things. They're not literal representations of the city," says Kodis. He believes the current flag is more or less a literal representation of different landmarks and symbols of Milwaukee, some of which are no longer relevant. 

"We see, you know, very specific things on the flag. We see city hall, we see a gear, we see a red-faced Indian, we see some sort of cryptic symbols that are apparently related to the library system at the time," he explains. "County Stadium is on there, which doesn't even exist anymore... Ultimately it just, it doesn't give us the kind of identity I think we truly deserve."

Designer Robert Lenz says he's felt a lot of community support for the People's Flag of Milwaukee Initiative, and has hope for the future. "I think a lot of people have already grabbed onto the flag as a symbol for the city," he says, noting that he has already seen at least one mural that incorporates the flag's design. 

It remains unclear if "Sunrise Over the Lake" might become the official flag for the City of Milwaukee. "The wheels of government turn slowly is what we say," Lenz says, laughing. "We've met with the city, we've met with much of the Common Council already. We have a few sponsors for a bill and we will be organizing an effort to contact the Common Council in mass this summer." 

Joy Powers hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2016.