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Recap of Creative Milwaukee at Work Summit
A day of shop-talking with some of the city's most creative.


We all need a break from the quotidian work for a surge of creative inspiration, especially during a bleak November in Milwaukee. For me, that came with the Creative Alliance’s second-annual Creative Milwaukee at Work Summit on Friday, Nov. 8.

The sold-out, full-day event brought more than 300 professionals from every creative industry to Discovery World and asked the question, “What if?”

In between each break-out session, there was time for networking and a chance to write your own answer to that question on blue Post-It notes. They spurred even more discussion and a little dreamy thinking.

According to the Creative Alliance, the creative economy in the Milwaukee area is comprised of the following industries: design, media and film, performing arts and visual arts.

Maggie Kuhn Jacobus, president/executive director of the Creative Alliance, told me that “the goal of the day was to engage and inspire creatives of all experience and backgrounds, as well as draw from the larger Milwaukee business, non-profit, funding, educational and government sectors."

"We succeeded in having a diverse crowd on all levels,” she said.

My day began with Jose Chavez, artist and businessman, and newly turned restaurateur. His humorous and heartfelt presentation was interspersed with the phrases “Si se puede” (We can do it) and “You should come to my restaurant.”

Chavez is a self-taught artist and shared his story as a Mexican immigrant, his education and career path, and obsession with art.  His new restaurant,
Café La Paloma on 5th and National Avenue, displays his vibrant artwork.

Gary Mueller, event co-chair and founder of Serve Marketing, talked about his creative process by telling us the opposite of everything we thought to be true when it comes to marketing.

“Start with something that’s never been done before,” he advised. Other messages he heralded included instructions to simplify, or to think of how a kid would explain the message you're trying to convey. It’s ok to steal and repurpose, he said, and to share your good ideas because they could generate even more.

One thing that really stuck with me is that often times you need just as much creativity to keep an idea alive as you used coming up with it. Simply put: be clever and don’t accept "no" for an answer.

Ken Leinbach, founder and executive director of the Urban Ecology Center, and Lincoln Fowler, co-founder of Collectivo, also did a tag-team presentation on their creative process.

“These presenters were selected as being examples of a creative process in businesses or projects that are not overtly creative.  But their processes have elements that are useful to everyone,” Kuhn Jacobus said.

Fowler instructed, “Do your best work and the rest will follow, failure teaches you what you cannot do; and complicate to differentiate.” He used two great videos to tell the Collectivo story about the rise of their bakery (no pun intended) through changing the company's name.

Leinbach talked about facilitating a creative culture by giving yourself permission to be creative. His presentation was guided by a slew of P words: ponder, percolate, procrastination, pressure and pow. But he couldn’t stop with the alliteration. He told the crowd to play to make yourself present; passion is a must; and only when you are present can you come up with the pow, that great idea.

The final session of the day revealed The Compassion Project, which represents the union of a big corporation and creativity and demonstrates the important role of design thinking.  The user-centered exploration of design with GE Healthcare and MIAD was defined as "an in depth exploration of all aspects of healthcare, specific to exploring the end-to-end journey of breast cancer awareness, prevention, detection, diagnosis, cure and therapy.”

“Another goal [of the Summit] was to demonstrate that the Creative Alliance is all of us – all creatives, not an organization with a couple of staff people.  If we are to move the meter in Milwaukee around the creative economy, we need to come together as that broader definition of Creative Alliance,” Kuhn Jacobus said.

Hey you! Follow me on Twitter as @jkashou to stay on top of what's happening around town or search #GirlAboutTown.


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