In 2017, community leader and philanthropist Katie Heil began convening artists, leaders from arts and cultural organizations, and other civic and business leaders to discuss the need for a central coordinating office for the arts. Milwaukee was the largest American city without such an office and therefore did not have a seat at the table at national leadership tables, such as the US Urban Arts Federation, a national coalition of local arts offices for the nation’s 60 largest cities.

From September 2017 through July 2018, more than 100 artists, arts and culture leaders, neighborhood leaders, and other civic leaders participated in 27 planning meetings to create a common agenda to strengthen Milwaukee’s arts and culture sector and its contribution to the vitality of the city.

Since July 1, 2018, Imagine MKE’s founding board of directors and a team of consultants built a backbone organization to facilitate collective impact – an approach that intentionally unites leaders, organizations, and other stakeholders across sectors to advance population-level change. Our burgeoning collective impact coalition began building out a common agenda through four workgroups, which began meeting quarterly in 2018. A national search for the organization’s CEO began in December 2018, and the staff team of six began coming aboard in July 2019.

Together, we are launching a new organization to serve as the hub, organizer, and advocate for the arts and culture sector in Milwaukee by advancing shared objectives.

What is the Collective Impact model all about?

In 2011, The Stanford Social Innovation Review published an article by John Kania and Mark Kramer that brought the practice of collective impact to the forefront. Its core argument was that complex, big problems could not be solved by isolated interventions from a multitude of individual organizations. The article did not create the concept of collective impact, but more formally defined the conditions in which organizations can come together to measure and achieve outcomes, and not outputs.

The collective impact model, which is a practice that brings together different sectors to solve complex social problems at scale, is built upon five interconnected components – a common agenda, shared measurement systems, aligned activities, continuous communication, and backbone office support. One example of a Milwaukee-based organization that has a similar practice is Milwaukee Succeeds.

The collective impact model inspires an ambitious vision for Imagine MKE to serve as a leader in facilitating our coalition in working together towards change in a way that is collaborative, inclusive, adaptive, and celebratory.

As the “backbone” of this effort, Imagine MKE is dedicated to planning, managing, and supporting the initiative and the coalition’s agenda. We are responsible for guiding vision and strategy, supporting the aligned activities, establishing shared measurement practices, advancing policies, and mobilizing resources. To make our vision real, it’s going to require leadership from various partners: state government leaders, funding agencies, schools, the private sector, community organizers, and more. Let’s work together to tell the story of Milwaukee’s amazing art abundance and build capacity for continued success.