Another Milwaukee public art controversy
City aldermen shoot down a three-year-old plan
courtesy of Janet Zweig
Milwaukee sure has a knack for making benign art controversial. In a move reminiscent of the city’s infamous Blue Shirt debacle, local policy makers have shot down a public art project by an award-winning artist because, well, they just don’t like it. Or understand it. "I am just not feeling it," Ald. Willie Wade told the Journal Sentinel yesterday. "But then I wouldn't pay 50 cents for the Mona Lisa."
Janet Zweig, the artist of the maligned proposal, told Decider in an email, “The prototype has caused all kinds of misunderstanding. It is not the artwork.” Zweig’s interactive pieces—three years in the planning—were slated to go up this fall at five downtown locations, and Zweig had planned to hire local artists to help with the project. "I think the aldermen would have better understood it if I had been able to present it to them myself," said Zweig. "One alderman walked out because he thought the prototype animation was the actual artwork—it is not. He never saw the kiosk design or heard that many Milwaukeeans will be working on the short plays for the five kiosks, and that they will be paid for their time."
If the goal of art is to get people talking, Milwaukee’s a shining star in the art world. The Twitterverse and blogoshpere are on fire with outrage over the latest art bungle, and leading the e-revolt is the ordinarily cautious Mary Louise Schumacher, arts writer for the Journal Sentinel, who has been blogging like crazy since yesterday's decision. There’s also a lot of talk about how the arts community should have been there to support the project. David Fantle, Visit Milwaukee’s director of marketing, Twittered yesterday that “the arts community NEEDED to be there to show support.” Decider wonders, though, why does the approval of public art have to be a struggle? Certainly, other cities have similar controversies, too: Denver’s Blue Mustang is not without detractors, but the piece is still in place for the public to like or dislike.
More, how could Milwaukee's arts community know to take a stand when the artist herself didn't even know the project would require additional approval? "I was not aware of the necessity to present this proposal to the DPW or the Common Council for approval until just before my trip was planned this month," Zweig told Decider. "Even then, it was not made clear to me. Then, I was told the presentation would be made by the city lighting engineer. I protested, but was told it had to be that way and there was absolutely no option offered that I could present it myself. Would an artist present a city engineering plan? It seemed absurd for an engineer to present an artistic plan. I was dumbfounded."
If you're of a mind to do something, Milwaukee arts blogger Jonathan West offers some steps concerned citizens can take to save the artwork at Artsy Schmartsy, but Schumacher’s not holding her breath. Zweig remains game, however. "This piece is for you, for Milwaukee," she said. "If you want it, I'll happily build it for you."