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The Collective Impact Work

A Daydream in Progress

by Kennita Hickman on Sep 14, 2020
A Daydream in Progress

I’d love to share with you a dream for my perfect day in Milwaukee. Even without the challenges of the pandemic, it’s a daydream in progress. Some of these things already exist. Others don’t, yet. I often describe Milwaukee as a small city with big city amenities. Those amenities feel disjointed at time, inaccessible to Black and Brown folk. For me, this daydream helps me find my place in how to help create it. I hope you’ll share your dreams for a perfect Milwaukee day too – and then that we’ll build this thing together. 

I end my work day by coming home to get ready for a night on the town. I grab my cute jeans, white tank, and some cute boots and a custom leather jacket made by Darnisha Nolan of Nolan. I head to an art gallery on the South Side to see a Nicole Acosta and Corey Fells joint photo exhibition where I pick up a few original pieces. I then dash off to a performance venue (I’m picturing one similar to Natalie’s on the TV show “New York Undercover”) for dinner and a show. DJ DripSweat is playing but the night winds down with Shonn Hinton, Olen Franklin, Quinten Farr, and B~Free doing a small set.   

The next day, I go to the Farmers Market to grab fresh herbs, veggies, and local wine. I host author Emerald Mills and friends for dinner and book club later. She discusses her latest book with us. I share some Milwaukee-made soaps and candles (which I had gotten at the Farmer’s Market earlier) with my friends as thank you gifts.  
On Sunday, I catch a matinee of “Like Water for Chocolate” with one of the smaller live theatre houses (BIPOC) in Milwaukee.  

In this dream, everyone is paid a commensurate rate for work they love - meaning they can not only survive but thrive as artists in Milwaukee. In this world, I never have to think about what arts and culture things can I do. I worry about having enough time to do them all.  
In this dream, all Milwaukee neighborhoods have ample opportunity and systems that allow their residents to engage in art.  
There are policies that ensure that artists across disciplines have access to workspaces and venues to create and perform. There are equitable policies that ensure those opportunities are extended across race/ethnicity.  

Our Milwaukee-based publications and media outlets (including podcasts) celebrate our artists and are proud to have them represent our city.  
Non-profits and district recreation centers are hiring artists to teach workshops. Opportunities to buy Milwaukee-based art is infused in unexpected places – like furniture stores. 
And artists are driving all of this. They’re at the forefront, using their voice to ensure this city and all it encompasses creates space for them to thrive.  

While we are fortunate to already have many of the things I described above, my vision for a perfect weekend in Milwaukee doesn’t quite exist yet. Together, we’re building it through the work Imagine MKE and all of you who are engaged in our work groups.  

The possibility of that world is why I’m here at Imagine MKE.  
I have a fascination with systems and blueprints. I also love collaborating on projects. I’ve executed some of my best (and favorite) projects working in tandem with others - often with folks who offer a different skillset than mine.  

Working via a collective impact agenda is intriguing and complicated work. At its core, “Collective impact is a framework for progress in specific social problems. It is the organized commitment of a group of people and institutions to a common agenda.” 

Think of our four work groups as the spokes of the wheel and the collective impact agenda as the wheel itself. Each small part, small contribution working together for the whole of the common agenda.  

Our work at Imagine MKE is ambitious. Uncharted. Necessary. Urgent. Now.  

And it can’t happen without you. That’s the beauty of a collective impact agenda. We can revise it to fit our needs because the collective impact at its core must meet the needs of the stakeholders. And, that includes you.  

As my colleagues and I embark on our next set of work groups meetings, I invite you to think about your dreams for Milwaukee for the arts and culture community. How do we keep arts and culture alive during COVID-19, especially in Black and Brown spaces? I’ve shared my vision. I’d love to hear your own vision. 

Email me at and let’s have a virtual hang (coffee, snack, meeting). 

And then, consider helping us create this thriving Milwaukee for everyone by joining one of our work groups. You can find out more here. 

Kennita Hickman is Imagine MKE's Director of Artist Support and Outreach. Read more about her here.

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