Milwaukee’s Year in Review: 12 Highs and Lows for 2018

Take a trip down memory lane at the best and worst Milwaukee happenings of 2018.


The Oriental Theatre Reopens Under the Aegis of Milwaukee Film

This was a match made in heaven, and it definitely paid off. The historic movie palace on Farwell Avenue now has better sound, projection and bathrooms. But best of all is the programming, with plenty of interesting and unpredictable one night stands and series. Bring on the deep cuts! More than ever, the Milwaukee institution feels like the labor of love of film nerds.

The Hop

Sure it cost a lot of money. Sure it only covers 2.1 miles. OK, fine. But, on the other hand, it’s right nifty. It’s like the city has its own little train set, and some 76,000 (not unique) people hitched a ride during the first month of service.

Basketball is Played Inside Fiserv Forum

It’s not every year that something of this scope is built in Milwaukee, and did you know it’s the first “bird friendly” sports and entertainment venue in the country? According to the increasingly bird-friendly NBA, “One billion birds die annually after colliding with glass in the United States,” which is one bird for every 50 cents or so spent to build the new arena. Meanwhile, the Bucks season got off to a strong start playing that one game they do.

People Voting

The Milwaukee area – Milwaukee County, even – is surprisingly diverse politically. Remember a certain Sheriff David Clarke who kept getting elected? Then let us celebrate raw turnout in November’s election: According to the Journal Sentinel, votes in Milwaukee County increased 14 percent over the last midterm election in 2014, greater than the state average of 10 percent.

A New Home for America’s Black Holocaust Museum

Part of a mixed-use development, the museum, once an important Milwaukee institution, has become a centerpiece of the ongoing Bronzeville revitalization. Actor Danny Glover visited in June to stir up interest as the museum is still raising money for exhibits, and its coverage of racial violence and oppression are more relevant than ever.

Re-Rise of the Arcades

For people interested in playing video games in public, there was a lot to celebrate this year: The opening of the big, loud, and popular Up-Down MKE bar/facility on the western end of Brady Street, the continued growth and excellence of the Garcade in Menomonee Falls, and the coziness of 1983 Arcade Bar, which opened at the end of 2017. Not to mention pop-up arcades of indie games put on by Mooncat Arcade.


Sex Trafficking

As unreal as it may sound, the coercive trafficking of human beings in Milwaukee for prostitution and sex continues to be a major problem. Throughout the year, a group of police and community organizations released a couple reports, including one showing that homeless children unaccompanied by adults are frequent targets of traffickers and pimps.

The Health Department’s Lost Year

One of these years, the Milwaukee Health Department will get its act together. It’s been slow to regroup after Health Commissioner Bevan Baker stepped down in January amid accusations of mismanagement within the department’s program to prevent and alleviate lead poisoning. In November, with new director Jeanette Kowalik at the helm, the agency was still deep in the hole with 11 staff vacancies in the lead program and 500 open cases.

Alms for the Streetcar

Our little engine that could really needs some fresh money to expand on its 2.1 miles. In December, it lost out on a federal grant (for a second time) for $20 million.

Bye, Dennis Kois

Young, smart, and hungry, Dennis Kois seemed like the perfect person to lead the Milwaukee Public Museum into the future and a new building somewhere. The former exhibit designer knows the field well and had shown he could sell people on the idea of a smaller, more modern facility behind the scenes. And then the museum board began to investigate whispers that he was involved in an affair with a subordinate, and he abruptly resigned (after denying the allegations).

Art Stolen from a Bus Stop

Not the most momentous story, and there was a happy ending with the art being returned. But the atmosphere of “this is why we can’t have nice things” clung tightly to this September saga.

Arrest of Edgar Mendez

Did you know a Milwaukee-area reporter was handcuffed in August and arrested after “trespassing” in a Milwaukee Police Department parking lot in order to take photographs of patrol cars? It definitely happened, and Edgar Mendez of the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service won the later trial with the assistance of a former municipal judge, Jim Gramling, who represented him pro bono.



Matt has written for Milwaukee Magazine since 2006, when he was a lowly intern. Since then, he’s held the posts of assistant news editor and, most recently, senior editor. He’s lived in South Carolina, Tennessee, Connecticut, Iowa, and Indiana but mostly in Wisconsin. He wants to do more fishing but has a hard time finding worms. For the magazine, Matt has written about city government, schools, religion, coffee roasters and Congress.