Innovation in Milwaukee (MiKE)

Greater Milwaukee Committee

Funding Received: 2011
Milwaukee, WI
Funding Period: 1 year and 5 months
May 7, 2012

MiKE is an economic development cluster initiative launched by the Greater Milwaukee Committee. Focused on aligning existing assets and attracting new ones, MiKE is developing high-tech talent at the intersection of design and technology. The initiative is also bringing innovation to existing companies and creating opportunity for start-ups to grow an already strong design technology community in the region.

There are more than 30 creative, collaborative spaces in the Milwaukee region. Each collaborative space plays a critical role in creative placemaking by connecting the community to creative process. Oftentimes, the public is satisfied leaving "creativity" in the hands of the specially trained — architects, artists, designers— perhaps lumping that community into a distant notion of "them" or "not me." This can lead to an excess of supply and demand that never connect — ships passing in the night. However, creative collaborative spaces help enable projects, whether public art, public parks, or public transportation, to be designed with community in mind and engage broader audiences.

OPEN MiKE is one of the newest collaborative spaces in Milwaukee. An extension of the larger MiKE initiative, OPEN MiKE is a physical and virtual space promoting open source entrepreneurship, where students, freelancers, professionals and entrepreneurs come together to create a design and tech ecosystem to accelerate the development of new ideas and rapid prototyping. In other words, it’s a new hub for creativity, productivity, and serendipity.

Being a new initiative looking to strengthen Milwaukee's creative community, OPEN MiKE has plenty to learn from the accumulated experience of longtime investors in the city. One of Milwaukee's longest-lasting and consistently innovative spaces is Bucketworks, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this June. James Carlson, executive director of School Factory, Inc and founder of Bucketworks, gives us a kaleidoscopic, panoramic sprint through their work:

Once a boxing gym, a political headquarters, and who knows what else, Bucketworks is a labyrinthine hive of creative spaces, within a single building, located in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood. Some spaces are malleable and un-programmed, some are piled (literally) with any kind of building block you can imagine, while others have developed specific purpose.

ArtWorks for Milwaukee, a non-profit that prepares young people for the workplace through the arts, have recently found a permanent home for their operations within Bucketworks. Meghan Koven, executive director of ArtWorks, joins James for a discussion on creative placemaking in theory, in practice, and in Milwaukee;

Milwaukee’s creative community, much like the city itself, has a long way to go, but a lot to build upon. The “zero sum” mindset can drive competition, or a faith in emergent capacity of collaboration can set the roadmap for the city’s creative community.