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Graffiti Isn't a Dirty Word
RedLine Milwaukee strives to foster the next revolution in art.
A wall of graffiti art at the RedLine Milwaukee exhibition
Graffiti. It’s kind of a bad word, right? I’d bet most of us think graffiti means bad kids, a ‘bad element’ around, disrespect, that kind of thing. So I never expected graffiti to exemplify a whole bunch of good things about our youth. But last Thursday, it did.

As I stood in front of a wall of colorful graffiti, not only was I blown away by the images, movement and energy, I was struck by the creative talents of the young artists and how important this expressiveness is in their development. I wasn’t on the street, though. I was in an art gallery.

This wonderful graffiti art is the subject of an exhibition at RedLine Milwaukee, an urban laboratory that seeks to nourish Milwaukee’s central city youth through their involvement in the development of contemporary art.

“RedLine bridges the gap between high art and life in the central city by using art to prompt conversations on race, culture, gender, politics and the environment”, according to RedLine Board President Brian Kilb.

At RedLine Milwaukee, emerging artists learn how to express themselves through their art. The program encourages concentration on contemporary issues like social injustice and culture, hence the graffiti theme.

RedLine reaches out to elementary schools, middle schools and high schools to afford young men and women this opportunity. Students have the chance to live at RedLine while they learn, but they are required to give back in the form of teaching others, generally teens who visit the facility as a haven from urban troubles. So it’s a wonderful give and take that allows the young people to develop.

I was very impressed with the students at RedLine. For some of them, art is a release, others a form of expression, still others a way to blossom as an individual. For some it’s an escape from the dangers of the streets. For all of those at RedLine, it is a terrific opportunity.

At the exhibition last week, I talked with Terrell Morgan, freelance designer, and current RedLine board member, about the meaningful nature of the program. Terrell’s spin was somewhat grander in that, in his view, “Art is slowly dying as a form of expression. I’m thinking that we can begin the next art revolution, right here, with the talent that we have”.

So how did they wind up with a graffiti exhibition? A desire for social expression. RedLine intern Julia Otto says, “The artists will discuss the controversy of graffiti and what it means to look beyond the illegal tagging aspect. Is there more to graffiti than the stereotype of a trouble-making tagger who tags wherever he/she chooses? You bet.”

The display attempts to make a statement on social issues through art, demonstrating that when channeled and directed, art can be a viable way to educate people on those social issues. This exhibition sure does that. And to top it off, the work is stunning.

RedLine is located at 1422 N. Fourth St., just three blocks north of the Bradley Center. The Graffiti exhibition will be on display now through December 23rd.  More details are on their web site, here. Check it out.

Mr. Kilb sums it up in a nutshell: “As austerity threatens to reduce state budgets and funding for the arts, this may be where the future of art at its most basic level is saved from extinction.  If nothing else, it’s a pretty cool place to hang around in your free time.”

And a great place for our young people to live and grow.  

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