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'We Have This Opportunity To Get Back To Better' Says CEO Of Imagine MKE

Courtesy of Imagine MKE
David Lee is CEO of Imagine MKE, an organization dedicated to helping foster the arts and culture sector of Milwaukee.

Professional artists have been some of the hardest hit by the economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many theaters, museums, performance halls and other communal arts spaces have been closed for almost a year and artists have had to get creative to find ways to bring the arts to Wisconsinites virtually.

But even before the pandemic, Wisconsin ranked deadlast amongst all states in per capita arts funding. David Lee is the CEO of Imagine MKE, an organization dedicated to helping foster the arts and culture sector of Milwaukee.

Lee says the good news is Wisconsin now ranks 49th, but only because Arizona has fallen to 50th. 

He says that the arts and culture is a nearly $250 million industry in Milwaukee and that the support received from the state is not enough.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers recently released his proposed budget for the next two years, which includes $500,000 for arts and culture funding. Lee says that is just a fraction of what the state should be spending.

“What we can do is really start making the choice to start to see the value of work of our arts and culture groups and to really begin to invest in it like the incredible engine that it is,” he says.

Lee says artists and creative people need to seen as the community members and small business owners that they are. “When you think about artists, they’re not these sort of magical elves that come out and do creation and like inspire us and go away, right,” he says. “They are a vital, vital of how our city works.”

Along with increased funding, Lee says he would like to see positions created at the county and city level dedicated to the promotion of arts and culture. He says those voices would mean that during every budget discussion, there would be someone in the room advocating for artists.

As an end seems insight for the COVID-19 pandemic, Lee says this work needs to be done so that art and culture sector doesn’t just return to where it was before the pandemic but so it can be even better.

“Our arts and culture scene, I think, requires our business leaders, our city’s civic leaders to see us as an important partner in driving what our city looks like post-COVID,” he says. “I’ve heard a lot of talk about, like, let’s get back to normal and I think our arts and culture groups know that, like, we have this opportunity to get back to better.”

From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.