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Ordinary people doing extraordinary work: Growing Resistance

In the 50th anniversary year at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD), the college presents “Growing Resistance: Untold Stories of Milwaukee’s Community Guardians,” an exhibition in the Brooks Stevens Gallery running January 8 – March 2, 2024. Related programs include zine making, a book club, student-guided tours and a story circle with community partners.

“Growing Resistance” showcases everyday voices of resistance and resilience around environmental injustice from some of Milwaukee’s most historically underrepresented neighborhoods – predominantly the North and Northwest Sides. The community guardians are residents and citizens, block leaders, elders, organizations, grassroots groups and sometimes youth.

Their stories and accounts of urban growing, food, housing and green space are expressed through dance, photography, sculpture, environmental sound, painting, interviews, poetry, video, architectural models and more. They are drawn from over 10 years of partnership between MIAD, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee School of Engineering, and community experts, to co-create more representative histories of the neighborhoods, prompting us to ask how we might amplify these grassroots actions and voices – which are often erased in the archives or ignored in the media.

“This is an unusual exhibit because it represents an ongoing community collaboration,” says co-curator and MIAD Professor Helen J. Bullard. “While it includes work from several well-known local artists, it also includes many voices from community guardians who may never have considered themselves to be artists before. This work will never be done – it’s ongoing.”

“Growing Resistance” has attracted a variety of media attention. TMJ4 Milwaukee visited campus several times to interview artists and community guardians. “This is the story of communal healing and building and our resilience against slow violence and inequities in our neighborhood,” says Camille Mays, a community guardian, in an interview on February 5, 2024. “It’s an honor to hear and see people’s stories and voices being uplifted in so many different neighborhoods. Just the years of work that we’ve put in, to see it on display is awesomely overwhelming.”

In the same interview, co-curator Dr. Arijit Sen of the UWM School of Architecture and Urban Planning said, “[Students] realize that there are lots of issues and problems – structural, major issues and problems that people in the community face. But unlike what we mostly hear, they are not passive people. They are making a difference. They are transforming their world … We talk about our nation as an unfinished project. Part of that unfinished project, people who are building our nation, are these ordinary people doing extraordinary stuff.”

Lisa Roszkowski, co-founder of Cherry Street Community Garden, spoke with TMJ4 about the role of community gardens in building communities and pursuing food justice. “You’re out with your neighbors, you’re talking to people walking by. We have a free garden, so we share with our neighbors. It’s both garden and community together,” she says. “You’ll start to meet the guardians, the people who are bringing these neighborhoods forward, who are creating beauty, creating art, telling stories through dance and voice and the community gardens that are also part of that network of building beautiful spaces.”

The exhibition is hosted by MIAD and co-curated with MSOE and UWM. It is funded in part by a grant from Wisconsin Humanities, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Wisconsin Arts Board.

Read TMJ4 coverage of the peace post unveiling program and interviews with community guardians, keep up with Growing Resistance on Instagram and learn more about MIAD’s Galleries.

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