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First 100 Days

Joyfully bringing worlds together

by David Lee on Nov 4, 2019
Joyfully bringing worlds together

My first blog in this space was about transitioning out of my former role as the Executive Director of Feeding Wisconsin. I happened to be in DC at the time and was struck by both the urgency and poignancy of the decision seeing the actual Hunger Wall mural at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. 

It seems fitting that as our public Launch Party bears down us this Thursday – and as I begin to wrap up this first chapter this blog – that we, as a full staff of six, spent last Friday evening at Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin’s Annual Feed Your Soul Fundraiser at Flux Design.

For the last 16 years, Feed Your Soul has brought together Milwaukee-based artists to donate their time, talents, and work to help raise funds for Feeding America Eastern Wisconsin, one of the key stakeholders in the Feeding Wisconsin network, to fight hunger throughout its 33 county service territory, including Milwaukee.

It was so lovely to see so many of my food bank friends – people who I had spent the larger part of the last ten years of my life fighting hunger with – with my current team of joyful arts and culture champions and the many incredible visual artists who have been a part of the process getting Imagine MKE off the ground and who will continue to play important roles in creating a more vibrant and thriving city through the arts.

There was David Najib Kassir, the longest participating artist in our artist workgroup, Pamela Anderson, the board chair of MARN, one of our key partners, John Kowalczyk, who will be leading our community art project at our Launch Party, Ken Brown, who showed at our Gallery Night MKE show at the Black Historical Society in Amani, and of course Stacey Williams-Ng, our board member and founder of Wallpapered City, who just happened to be doing a live painting of Kennita Hickman, our Director of Artist Support and Outreach.

Talk about worlds coming together. 

Over the last 100-ish days, I’ve often been asked what it has been like to change fields from something as vitally important and basic as fighting hunger to championing arts and culture, which is a little higher on the Maslow hierarchy.

I think that they are ultimately the same: food and art are the two things that fundamentally make us human, and they are both equally important. From the beginning of time, any place where you could grow and share food, and paint, sculpt, sing, dance, and  put on plays, great societies formed. It's no wonder, right? Food feeds the mind and art feeds the soul. 

It’s deficit framing to think of art and food as either-or; it should be both. That’s what is so incredible about the Feed Your Soul event – reminds us that we can and should support both.

There’s been a long history of artists supporting the work of food banks. Perhaps most famously, Harry Chapin was an incredible advocate for food access here at home and abroad. There are actually two food banks named after him – one in Fort Myers and the other in Long Island – and he was the co-founder of the national anti-hunger organization WHY Hunger.

While our network’s charge is to build a more thriving Milwaukee through arts and culture, this work cannot be done in a silo. It must be done working across sectors because no one organization, institution, or group can achieve the kind of results we are envisioning, whether it’s an inspired and engaged Milwaukee or a hunger-free Wisconsin. These kinds of connections have to start somewhere and how inspiring to experience it happening between the artists, the food bank, art lovers and food bank supporters.   

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