LAD MKE: Building Connections and Culture in Milwaukee's Latine Community
Imagine MKE is proud to support a neighborhood-based arts initiative funded by the Zilber Family Foundation and led by Brazilian textile designer and artist Maria Ramos, to create systems that build neighborhood identity and vibrancy through arts and culture – specifically in the VIA (Layton Boulevard West) and Clarke Square neighborhoods on Milwaukee’s southside, where Maria herself is also a resident.
The overarching goal of the project has been to empower and improve the well-being of those residing in these neighborhoods, especially artists and small businesses, and to help strengthen a sense of pride and foster creative-placemaking within the community.
The lead of the project is Maria Ramos, a textile designer and artist from Brazil. Ramos studied architecture at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro before delving into fashion design at the Technology Center of Chemical and Textile Industry in 2013. In her studies of architecture and fashion, she developed a passion for creativity, culture, and community. She also served as a community leader in Brazil, through involvement in several cultural initiatives, including supporting the Vulcão Erupçado initiative and Amigos da Onça, which celebrate the vibrant and diverse culture of the ghetto/peripheral areas of Rio de Janeiro.
Since moving the U.S., Ramos has been primarily focused on fashion design. Her line of up-cycled fashion has been featured in Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Refinery 29, Pure Wow, and PopSugar and MKE Lifestyle Magazine. Ramos was also a finalist in the 2021 Etsy Design Awards. Recently, Ramos has again turned to a focus of boosting the art and culture scene in Milwaukee, collaborating with the David Barnette gallery to create wearable art, and most recently, the LAD MKE project, which was created to bring together community members, neighborhood organizations, arts/culture partners and independent creatives to highlight Latine culture and art in Milwaukee.
Ramos began work on this project this spring and has since established a Latine Artists’ Directory, comprised primarily of artists within these highlighted communities. In the process of launching this directory and holding convenings for creatives in the neighborhood, she discovered that there was a huge need for a network of Latine artists in the city, who were hungry to be connected to other members of the community, outside the bounds of their neighborhoods.
Initially, the project was intended to feature artists within the VIA and Clarke Square neighborhoods, but upon receiving responses to the artists call, Maria noted how many artists from outside these areas also expressed a desire to be included. As such, Ramos is planning to expand the project to be inclusive of all areas in the Greater Milwaukee area, and perhaps even Wisconsin.
Images via Instagram (LAD.MKE)
As part of this ambitious project, Ramos has also developed and convened both an artist cohort and arts and culture committee to identify ongoing needs and areas of concern and is in the process of organizing an upcoming community rummage sale event at MiSA (Mitchell Street Arts) for local artists. I spoke with her recently, as her time leading the project nears its close, to gain more insight into her perspective on this work, and how she hopes it will live on.
Why did you choose to take on this project?
Maria: Coming from Latin America, I know how culturally rich the Latine countries are. Art is very present in our lives there, whether it’s through public installations, graffiti, architecture or how people integrate with the city - we breathe art and culture.
Since I moved here, I’ve heard a lot about Milwaukee’s history, but not so much about its present. My guess is that this happens due to the growth of BIPOC populations and the perception that these cultures have less to offer.
By [amplifying] Latine narratives, we acknowledge not only its value, but also its existence within the city, contributing to a much-needed integration process in the Milwaukee cultural scene.
I believe integration is a key point for the cultural rebirth of Milwaukee. In this sense, I wanted to be in this project because I believe it is a way of breaking the invisible walls we have in the city.
What need is this work fulfilling for the Milwaukee community?
M: The need for a more integrated and inclusive art scene. The cultural narrative of the city should not be so segregated. Despite the difference in perspectives, we are all coexisting in the same space.
Milwaukee is home for all of us. Our multiplicity should be a strength, not a divisor.
How do you hope the work you've started will live on in its new, community-led chapter?
M: For a near future, I hope that more Latine artists are recognized and appreciated in the Milwaukee art scene, but ideally, I would like this project to inspire a more integrated and inclusive cultural scene for our city.
What advice would you offer Latine and/or Southside artists who want to be part of changing the trajectory/narrative of their communities?
M: Be the change you want to see in your community. [This] might sound a little cliché, but often we expect other people to do the things we wanted to see done.
Taking action is easier than we think.
Of course, you will not accomplish it all at once and [may] never even see your full dream come true, but changes come through small actions put together, so every small change counts.
LAD MKE’s first event, an Art Supplies Rummage Sale, is set to place on Saturday, September 23rd from 12-4 PM at MiSA (710 W Historic Mitchell Street).
According to the event website, the idea behind this event, envisioned by Natalia Moryns, is to provide “an opportunity to celebrate the democratization of the craft of art”, while also allowing artists to network and socialize with fellow members of the community, part with unused materials while making “a few extra bucks and, maybe, bring home supplies for new a project.”
There are still open vendor slots available! If you’re an artist or small business owner with unused art supplies and are interested in participating, please fill out the Vendor Application form to secure a spot.
The Latine Artists’ Directory is also always looking to expand and highlight more local artists and is currently accepting new submissions to join – to be featured on LAD MKE’s website, complete the form here.
Since our inception in 2019, Imagine MKE has strategically engaged in supporting or building art activations throughout several of the vastly diverse neighborhoods that make up and shape our great city. As a Latina resident of Clarke Square, the work Maria has done and plans to continue to do through LAD MKE will help to foster long-term capacities for the vitality, connectedness, and sustainability of the arts and culture of Milwaukee’s Latine community-- in Milwaukee's southside, and beyond.