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Ideation and Whimsy: My Imagine MKE Experience

by Esteban Contreras on Jul 15, 2021
Ideation and Whimsy: My Imagine MKE Experience

I joined Public Allies Milwaukee in September of 2019. I'll be honest, I wasn't completely sure what I was getting myself into, but a good friend of mine said I would be a great fit for the program and it would help me gain professional experience. I was extremely excited to begin something new and to be in a cohort with other young leaders in Milwaukee. The very first week of Public Allies was similar to a summer camp where folks stood in a circle holding hands while spilling their guts out about their fears, anxieties, and hopes. I always say it's a bit hokey but I had already felt a shift in my heart as I became more comfortable with my cohort and soon I became just as vulnerable as them.  

After core week, the real work began as we went our separate ways to begin our service terms at our host organizations. I was paired with the Milwaukee Public Schools Foundation, Inc. for my first year of the program. I was a part of the MPS system throughout my entire education so I was looking forward to giving back in any way I could to students who were just like me. The program itself was demanding but I was up for a challenge. Just over halfway through our 10-month commitment, the world drastically changed, piling up more challenges as we adjusted to virtual service. It was difficult, to say the least. Ultimately, I stuck with the program and continued my service through the summer. Next up was planning my second year with Public Allies, a fellowship. 

As a fellow, I had more intention on selecting a host organization whose mission and vision was aligned with my interests: the arts. After mentioning this to the Public Allies Executive Director, she introduced me to the one and only, Mac Antigua. Soon after, my pursuit of joining Imagine MKE for my second year of PA was set and after a diligent interview process, I joined the team as the Communications and Network Development Fellow.    

My service involved collaborating with Lindsay and Mac on buffing up communications and networking muscles to energize the Milwaukee community in building a vibrant and more inclusive arts and culture ecosystem. Pretty broad goal, huh? That's sort of the Imagine MKE way—big and broad ideas that will eventually find their way to attainable tasks and projects. Although I felt I was ready to take on this new challenge, I quickly realized I would need to change my perspective to avoid feeling like I was constantly failing. I wasn't failing; I was growing. As the wonderful Ashley Lee always told our cohort, "If you're not uncomfortable, you're not growing." I kept this mantra in my mind as I took on more tasks in this role, saying 'yes' to any opportunity that was new for me.  

What I admire the most about the IMKE team is their practice of ideation. Every moment is an opportunity to talk new ideas, processes, projects, or ventures (I'm looking at you, Thirst Traps for the Arts). I was so used to set structures and procedures that I admit I did struggle with letting my mind go wild with what could be. After a couple weeks of orientations and level-setting, I was assigned tasks that were intentionally ambiguous and open-ended. After all, my role as a fellow was to build capacity at this organization so they let me have at it. Soon I was able to take over Imagine This Blog, recruiting and connecting with Milwaukee creatives and inviting them to share their stories while amplifying their work. I learned a little bit of design as I watched Adobe tutorials to keep our branding consistent and engaging on our social media channels. I dabbled in the world of producing as I edited several podcast episodes. I also sent out several email campaigns, anxiously awaiting replies from our network, hoping to engage them in our mission. I can keep going with a list of everything I did during my term with Imagine MKE but what's most important is that through it all, I learned to trust myself. I no longer felt uncertain with my service or my impact to the organization. I felt like a true part of the team and knew my presence was missed during retreats with my cohort or the gracious amounts of breaks through Public Allies. Part of this confidence was a result of all the whimsy this team exudes. Connection is highly valued at Imagine MKE, not only with our network but with each other. There were very real moments of connection where we simply held space for each other; as well as ridiculous moments during our Thursday afternoon games, calling each other out and deciding if our Scattergories answer is worth the point. There won't be a time where I hear the word "whimsy" and not think about Imagine MKE.

The trust I gained in myself is something I'm taking with me and will cultivate further. It also would not have happened without the incredible amount of support from this whimsical team: David, Mac, Antoine, Lindsay, Kennita, and Annie. The past 10 months was a blast and I can say with certainty that I am not the same person I was before this experience. Thank you!!  

See you around as I now join the IMKE network of Arts Champions.  


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