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Adam Carr Plants Seeds of Art and Community All Over the City

Aisha Turner
Adam Carr leads a tour of places important to the 1967 fair housing marches.

Back when Adam Carr was a radio producer, he was a bit of a tumbleweed -- rolling into communities, telling stories, and leaving before he really had a chance to establish a connection.

Now, as a freelancer, he’s changed his approach.

“I’m kind of like a truck with a bed full of plants on it that drives around just digging up dirt,” he jokes.

"I work in Milwaukee at the intersection of community and communication."

Adam is still one of those people that pops up all over the city. I’ve found that when his name comes up in conversation people will tell me, “Oh yeah, Adam Carr - I know that guy.” It’s often followed with “So what does he do anyway?”

Adam participates in this dynamic - he doesn’t really like to define what he does, for fear of being pigeonholed. Plus, he says, this is nothing new for him. “I’ve always been a little bit chameleonic. Like, I’ve always been a person who’s participated in communities and had friends and participated in the city in a way that’s been really broad, I guess.”

Here’s a quick background: Adam grew up in Milwaukee and attended Rufus King. He went to college in Minnesota. And after graduating in 2007, he spent a little time abroad. Then he wound up back in the city canvassing for the 2008 election and working for 88.9.

Credit Aisha Turner
Adam wrote a children's book called "Explore MKE" -- which teaches young people about the city of Milwaukee.

Now, he just kind of does his own thing. Adam takes pictures. He’s been involved in public art projects. He’s written a children’s book about Milwaukee. He does web work for the Neighborhood News Service.

He describes his work as: “The basic definition that I will give for what I do here is I work in Milwaukee at the intersection of community and communication.”

Sometimes those intersections are literal. Occasionally, on Saturday afternoons you can find him on a yellow school bus introducing Milwaukeeans to parts of the city they’d never seen, or teaching them the history of a place they’d been but never thought much about.

One recent tour took participants to see places key to the 1967 Open Housing Marches. On this day Adam’s projects collided. He's also the co-chair of the March on Milwaukee 50th, an ongoing effort to honor the city’s civil rights history and spur contemporary activism.

“You never know what kinds of opportunities will arise,” he explains. “I think the opportunity to be involved in the 50th anniversary of one of the most important untold stories. I do frequently remind myself of like ‘Wow, I’m just really lucky that I get to be a part of it.’”

That work doesn’t come without its challenges.

“We’re an extremely intergenerational group. We’re a group of people across a lot of different sectors and backgrounds. I think that the story itself and its legacy and in the current moment of our city, there’s some really complex racial dynamics that exist in doing the work. This has sort of like taken all the different nuances of the different languages or cultural languages that I’ve come to understand or speak and it’s sort of asked me to use all of them.”

Credit Aisha Turner
Adam takes tour-goers to the 16th Street Bridge, where protesters challenged housing discrimination back in 1967.

He’s gained that experience by traversing so many communities.

And I thought that maybe Adam does this work, all over the city, in celebration of the city, because he loves this place. He says it’s not that simple. “I love Milwaukee in a way that it breaks my hearts almost everyday. I feel let down by it because I feel like it’s capable of so much more than what it does.”

Adam points to the city’s racial and economic disparities as part of his disappointment. He also gets frustrated when he sees privileged communities ignore the problems that persist.

“What makes me love being here is... the people that I feel connected to, who I work alongside everyday and the people who are doing incredible work around Milwaukee... A lot of what people are doing to untangle the dysfunction or offer alternatives to the dysfunction - like other ways of being and seeing each other and relating to each other and building communities - that makes me optimistic," he says. "Even though we have like a lethargic, civic dialogue a lot of times, what makes me feel love for this place is there are a lot of people who are building an alternative to this lethargy and this amnesia that we have in this city.”