Don't hate, create

Photos by Dan Bishop

November 2012

Jill Morin

In today’s tumultuous economic climate, it’s one thing to raid other states in hopes of luring companies to come to Wisconsin.

It’s another thing to do the hard spade work necessary to nurture homegrown talent.

Beyond simply talking the talk about job creation and who is allegedly doing a better job of it, the Milwaukee Creative Alliance is "walking the walk."

Almost 11,000 jobs are directly attributed to the arts, the association points out.

"The Milwaukee region has a plethora of creative assets, including nonprofit, for profit and individual, which continue to contribute significantly to the economic viability and development of this community," says Jill Morin, Alliance board co-chair.

"Creative Alliance Milwaukee is an economic development services organization. Our overarching interest is to create more jobs in southeastern Wisconsin by linking, leveraging, promoting and growing the creative industries," agrees Kimberly Rosby, the Alliance’s communications czarina.

In 2008, the former Cultural Alliance was commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Committee to audit the major cultural assets in the region, Rosby explains. The resulting inventory made clear the Milwaukee region has outstanding arts and cultural assets — and a fragile infrastructure to support them, she says.

According to GMC president Julia Taylor, the health of the arts depends on the vitality of large and small arts groups and on artists and audiences. "This broad reach and depth creates a vibrant region, not only for the quality of life, but in our region’s economic development," she asserts. The GMC and its membership recognize that art and culture are big business here, and partners with numerous groups to strengthen the city’s creative assets, Taylor continues.

Aided by a consultant and supported by a U.S. Department of Commerce grant, a report entitled "Creative Industries, A New Economic Growth Opportunity for the Milwaukee 7 Region" recommended developing a strategic action plan to connect and grow the area’s creative sector. To implement those recommendations, the Cultural Alliance became the Creative Alliance Milwaukee in April 2011. The goal was to link, leverage, promote and grow this important economic niche, Rosby says.

"With the possible exception of technology, there is no other economic development sector that contributes to the overall vibrancy and strength of a community than the creative industries," asserts Morin.

She cites three reasons why:

•The industry itself is significant and growing. In the Milwaukee region, it accounts for more than $2 billion in annual wages, and 4.2 percent of all jobs, making it almost as large as the region’s construction industry and almost three times as large as the water industry.

•The creative industries help make other industries such as manufacturing and finance more creative, innovative, distinct and thus, more successful.

•The creative industry adds significantly to Milwaukee’s quality of life and image.

To help this process, the Alliance established The Creative Hub, a resource website ( According to Rosby, one of group’s members, Bill Finn of Finn Digital, landed a new contract when a Danish firm learned of Finn’s design capabilities by visiting the site.

"Based upon the national recognition we’re receiving for our efforts, we know that what we’re doing is fairly innovative and unique," Morin says. "We’re not following some well-defined template. In this regard, we know that initial understanding and support of our work will face some skepticism. But the more people, even those in the good ol’ boy/girl community, hear about what we’re doing and see us in action, the more support and encouragement we receive. We’re young, but we know we have a bright future."

It's a group thing

There’s a whole lot of movin’ and shakin’ going on in Milwaukee these days with several advocacy groups pounding the proverbial pavement to encourage "outside-the-box" growth.

•Newaukee ( is a energetic gang of trendy young professional pacesetters who clearly love the city and its people. The group hosts parties, encourages outings and offers plenty of networking opportunities.

•MiKE ( puts the "i" for "innovation" into the catch-term "MKE." Design and technology-oriented, the organization sponsors activities that "foster creativity, cultivate talent, facilitate connections and seek opportunities" to increase economic development. It aims to help start-ups and entrepreneurs create what organizers say will be the next generation of great Milwaukee companies.

•ArtMilwaukee ( aims to enrich the community through arts presentations that are lighthearted and fun, as well as showcasing the city’s talented New Gen creatives. These range from sponsoring the painting of outdoor murals to hosting a musical beach party.

•The Milwaukee Artist Resource Network ( is a grassroots assemblage of dedicated volunteers. They share equipment, advise on projects and provide a shoulder on which to cry whenever an empathetic pal is needed.

•FUEL Milwaukee is an economic development initiative of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Its mission? To put the Milwaukee Region on the map in a whole new way — by establishing and positioning the region as a destination for world-class talent.


This story ran in the November2012 issue of: