After a year of doing projects around the country, I am in Summit Lake [Akron, Ohio] celebrating the League of Creative Interventionists' year of work with the community. As the sun sets over the lake, it creates a picturesque view of a 200-person dinner filled with residents, leaders, and Knight Foundation and Reimagining Civic Commons Directors.
I wonder, “Why the f*#k am I not doing this work in my own city, in my own 'hood?” I know in that moment it is time for me to come home—to do space-making not in Akron or Philly, Charlotte or Macon, but in the community that raised me, in the Midtown neighborhood in the heart of Milwaukee.
Working with artists and leaders all over the nation in their home cities left me feeling inspired but also out of place. ‘Why did you receive the funding for my neighborhood?’ ‘Why are you here?’ were questions I often heard and grappled with. I wondered how I could “stay in my lane” in my work with people from different backgrounds, neighborhoods, and cities and at the same time make an authentic, equitable, and long lasting impact. Collaborating on creating peace through art in my own community, one of the most violent zip codes in the state, with former neighbors and new friends, was my heart’s truest calling, and I had to follow it.
Born into a place that wasn’t normal for my race,
it was home to me.
Growing up my brother and I the only two around,
our blonde hair standing out in tall fades and jheri curls.
53205 was home.
Nobody dreamed our parents would raise us in the center of the inner city
where white flight took families to nearby suburbs
And the Koller family committed to peace.
Start with vulnerability
Coming back was a pilgrimage that filled me with excitement and anxiety about returning to a place I had not lived in for 20 years. I wondered if I would be welcomed back into my former community. With each resident I met and every community meeting I spoke in, I opened up about my fears and how I had grown up in the neighborhood, but that now I didn’t know what was happening there. That I was here to listen and advocate for the community’s voice in my first homecoming project, “Making Peace in Midtown.”
At 18 I left, felt a call to see the world.
Somehow I always felt more comfortable when I was with people who were different than me.
So I moved to Japan, Brazil, Argentina, New York, Oakland
testing my ability to be a chameleon, learn from other cultures, start from scratch,
build community wherever I went, spread peace and love.
Until 53205 called me home.
To return to the community that raised me.
To listen to my former neighbors and meet new residents.
To bring art and creativity to the park.
To help in whatever way I could.
To support unity in my home, 53205.
Stay authentically in action
It was essential to be transparent with our intentions (Brother Ben and I) about why we were coming back home as well as what was happening throughout the project—including grants we received, partners involved, project costs, and needs from the community. This is why doing work in our hometowns is extremely powerful and productive. We are better able to tap into our culture and community because they know us, will speak their minds, and hold us accountable for our words and actions.
In addition, it was essential to find and connect with people who were actively engaged in the community and passionate about bringing art, activity, and peace back to the park [Tiefenthaler Park]. We gathered together and led ideations and brainstorming, supporting and putting community leaders front and center in the process. From this, two resident-led community groups were established that continue to work towards the beautification and safety of the local park and community.
Gunshots in the dark while Mom and Dad watched MASH
became my alarm clock for bedtime almost nightly.
When our house was first broken into
the police chef told us if we didn’t like it we should move,
But That wasn’t an option for us
Cause when you love your home and people in your community you take the good with the bad, the play with the crime, and you work to make it better.
You stand 4 peace by being a person of peace.
Because it is home.
Stand for peace
Unless we can create spaces for people to share their fears, wounds, and stories and work towards enacting their hopes for their lives and communities, we are just moving furniture. We need to be building the house together. Peacemaking is the new placemaking, a process not just of taking guns out of hands or putting up more lighting, but a journey of unifying as one species around our shared longing for connection and peace.
These peace posts were crafted from the visions of peace from the Midtown community
They Stand on our intentions for harmony planted in the soil
Sprinkled with tobacco to honor our ancestors by brother Muneer
They Mingle with ashes from my father, spread by Mama J
They are guardians of light and peace
They stand our ground and watch over the art and heart of earth
at the center of our basketball arena
We are called home to our birthplace to cement our roots in unity for peace.
May today mark the beginning of a golden era of peace for midtown,
let the voices of the residents lead the ship
and let the peace posts be our lighthouse that always remind us to stand 4 peace.
I say these words as I stand amongst the peace posts and am encircled by 200 residents and leaders, friends and family. It is August 25th, Stand 4 Peace day, our celebration of these five peace posts and a fully designed and painted 5,000-square-foot basketball court. We end the event on the new basketball court standing in the center circle on top of the African Adrinka symbol “House of Peace,” with our hands on each other’s shoulders wrapped around a neighborhood youth and elder. The sun having set, we bless the court, we pray for the protection of our neighborhood, we honor our oneness and we commit to being united species who stand for peace.
Our peacemaking journey has just begun.
Anne Koller is an artist, peacemaker, and facilitator who believes that diving into the spectrum of human emotions is the only way to live free. Through The Ashes Project, TAPIN, Follow the Water, and now, Free to Feel, she celebrates the intersection between emotions and the creative arts. She draws on a decade of experience at global organizations such as Google and the World Economic Forum combined with expanded disciplines in Kundalini Yoga, meditation, community building, and interactive art to craft experiences designed to unleash the power of emotions and create spaces for peace. Anne was born and raised in inner-city Milwaukee and currently resides in Alameda, California.
More about Anne Koller here
Learn more about Making Peace in Midtown here
Making Peace in Midtown Article here
Videos of the project on YouTube or watch below!