Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been looking for opportunities to get my kiddos more engaged in the goings-on here in Milwaukee. Naturally, this desperate need to cultivate a love of the arts landed on a weekend when Greg was out of town, which means the responsibility of giving my four children a rich cultural experience would land solely on my idealistic shoulders.
Fortunately for me, ZIP MKE had their gallery opening at the Central Public Library on Saturday afternoon. I heard whispers that cupcakes would be there, so I figured this would be a perfect event to bring the kiddos to. Because everybody know that Art + Cupcakes = Happiness.
But first, let me tell you more about ZIP MKE. Dominic Inouye, the developer of ZIP MKE, began this project after the death of Sylville Smith and the unrest in Sherman Park afterward. In the days, weeks and months following, the helicopters, the media vans, the discussions of good neighborhood/bad neighborhood, good cops/bad cops, black lives/blue lives, black people/white people ensued. All these conversations seemed to conclude by pointing their finger in the same direction: Those People.
And Dominic, like most Milwaukeens, began asking their neighbors and themselves what could be done. How can we come together? Where do we go from here?
“That was how ZIP MKE was born. Not a once-and-done, easy solution. Not a big fix. Not an action that would magically erase decades of systemic racism and economic disparity. But a way for people, on a very intimate level, to help by engaging with their city…[by] Looking those people and their spaces in the eye. And showing the rest of us what they see.”
Dominic and his team of Zipsters launched in September and began collecting photographs of people and places representing all 28 zip codes in Milwaukee. Dominic reached out to me and asked if I’d like to contribute photos to the project. It only took a couple minutes of messaging back and forth about specifics for me to agree to contribute. The idea is to show the beauty of people and places in Milwaukee and to encourage the exploration of our city.
On Saturday, we arrived just as the ZIP MKE event was starting. Dominic and a few others shared some thoughts on the project and that’s when things began to unravel quickly for me. The girls spotted the cupcakes and began asking me for a cupcake in that kid-whisper voice, which we all know is not a whisper at all but a loud, grating soundtrack of repetitive questioning until they receive the answer they desire.
But because I am an experienced mama and also because I was desperately trying to appear as the kind of mom that takes my children to cultural events all the time and whose children are always so well behaved and appropriate in adult spaces, I gave them all the Death Stare, which is what mothers do in public spaces in order to silently frighten their children into submission.
However, the Death Stare began to lose its potency around the time the third speaker reached the podium and I relented on the cupcakes just to quiet them.
Happiness reigned for about 2 minutes and then more kid-whispering: “Mom! This isn’t a show! There’s just adults standing around! I thought you said we were going to an art show!”
I responded with Death Stare on steroids. Just ZIP MKE it, kids.
They invented a game which involved Marielle laying on the ground and Sage stepping on her, which would make Mari whine and cry, never enough to get up off the floor and end the game, but just enough for the adults near me to give their own version of the Death Stare. I tried to pick Mari off the floor, but like every toddler on the face of this earth, she has perfected the art of turning her body into thirty pounds of uncooperative jelly and twisted out of my grip.
I glanced around at the other adults, all of whom were smart enough to attend this event without children. I was in a sea of childless adults with my four children, two of which were on the verge of spending the rest of their days scrubbing the floor with a toothbrush.
We did manage to make our way around the photos, all hung according to zip code.
Sage was excited to see the photos from our zip code.
After checking out the photo gallery, we explored the wing just off the gallery. Wow. I have never been in a library like this. There was a puppet show, a giant lighthouse for kids to play in, and beautiful window seats with cushions.
As a bonus prize, Lucy found a book the same size as her body about all of her favorite things. Cubs and Colts and Calves and Kittens!
Here’s my advice:
For those of you with children: Make your kids some pancakes on Saturday morning, pack them into your trashed minivan and go check out the ZIP MKE gallery. Naturally, you will bring another qualified grown up with you. As you tour the gallery, make mental notes of places you can check out as a family; or even better, places you could see on that date night in unforeseeable future. Make sure to explore the kids wing after you tour the gallery. Grab a lounge chair for yourself while your kiddos climb the lighthouse, or cozy up in the window seat and read a book with them. You will feel like Parent Of The Year for all that culture you’ve just invited your kids into. You should reward yourself with the cold, discarded hot cocoa you made hours ago for your children so that it doesn’t go to waste. You deserve it.
For those of you without children: Eat a fancy brunch in peace at BKC and head down to the ZIP MKE gallery in your pristine car. Enjoy a slow saunter around the beautiful photos of our city and make mental notes of new places you’d like to explore with all that disposable income. If you happen to bump into a desperate parent, tell them that their kids are obviously benefiting from a well-done cultural event and such thoughtful parenting. After viewing the gallery, you will feel like Citizen Of The Year for not only exploring our fair city, but also for encouraging someone in a time of need. You should reward yourself with a latte in a handmade mug with heart-shaped milk froth on top. You deserve it.
See all the photos from ZIP MKE collection here. The gallery is on display at Central Library until February 19th.