When Miranda Kay Levy was approached by the Museum of Wisconsin Art about a job working on exhibitions and leading their art education program, they cited her “out-of-the-box thinking,” reflective of Levy’s eclectic, artistic career. She’s been a fashion designer, reality show contestant, art educator, and now hopes to be the alderperson representing the first district of Cudahy.
Levy was born and raised in Wilton, a village of about 500 people. She joined the Army when she was 17 and became a construction equipment mechanic. After serving 8 years, she enrolled at UWM in the fine arts program. Her college art, inspired by her time in the military, explored the theme of identity and how identity is formed. Her focus switched to making clothing, and she began organizing her own fashion shows.
After school, she got what she saw as a chance to bring her work to a larger audience as a contestant on “Project Runway” in 2013. It was a mixed experience.
“It was very much reality TV, they’re trying to get a sound bite out of you and that was awkward and not what I was there for,” Levy says. “What I got out of it was meeting 15 other amazing designers that I still have relationships with today. It gave me name recognition and a chance to be a public speaker with groups interested in fashion. It’s been beneficial to this day – but would I do it again? I don’t know.”
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While working at MOWA, Levy felt the call to get back into fashion design and opportunity knocked when she made a connection with someone who worked at Florence Eiseman, a design brand of children’s clothing that was established in Milwaukee in 1945. Levy worked in production and was able to do some design work, too.
“I really thought I had found a company I was going to be with the rest of my life. I can’t think of anyone I would prefer to design for,” Levy says. But then the pandemic hit. Manufacturing shut down and companies were strained worldwide. As one of the youngest staff members, Levy was let go.
Since then she’s pieced things together by giving sewing lessons and working on commissions. A more flexible schedule gave her more time with her son, who is in kindergarten, and to work on renovating her 100-year-old house on Packard Avenue. Levy is part of a migration of creative people and young families who have moved to Cudahy seeking affordable property in recent years. Levy didn’t know the ins and outs of Cudahy, but she did know she was in love with her new home
“I thought, if I could just paint that house, it would be perfect,” Levy says. “I love every creak you hear when you step on the floor. I didn’t know a lot about Cudahy except it was blue collar, had some factories and a Jo-Ann Fabrics. And that there were a bunch of empty storefronts, and I thought– maybe I can do something to change that.”
Part of that plan of change is running for Cudahy alderperson. If she wins, she’ll be the first woman to ever hold that position in her district, according to Levy. One of the biggest problems she hears cited while campaigning is that the city has no grocery store– Cudahy’s Aldi and Pick N’ Save have both closed. Levy says that the unattractive string of abandoned storefronts on Packard Avenue in the downtown area is part of the problem of attracting a bigger business. She says showcasing art in the empty storefronts might draw the eye to their potential.
“I think that working together with the owners of the properties on Packard Avenue is really important to revitalize our community,” Levy says. “Working on initiatives with artists and property owners is the way to do that. There are lots of cities that have proven that to work– Detroit, Minneapolis, and even La Crosse did something like that to generate interest in their cities.”
Levy will face opponent Jeff Schlax on April 6, in a sort of new school versus old school race– Schlax, an account representative for Heritage Title Services, has lived in Cudahy for 26 years.
“People ask me, you’ve only lived here for 3 years, why would you want to run for office? Are you actually invested in your community?” Levy says. “I’m absolutely invested, that’s why I bought a house here, I plan to stay here the rest of my life. There are people who have been born and raised here that never left and that’s great, that means there’s something to love about Cudahy. But just because someone has lived here for a long period doesn’t mean they’re the best to change and grow things.”
But elected or not, Levy says she still plans to “grow an initiative downtown in any way I can.”