Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How do you thank a city?

The end of April is nearing & I have gone back and fourth with ways to celebrate and document my 10 year anniversary of living in Milwaukee.

my favorite
2005 Downtown Milwaukee near the post office. This wall is now sandblasted clean.

I spent an entire day last week sorting and collecting photos that summarized my time here so far. Given that I have
always taken a lot of photos- there are boxes of semi-organized prints from before I started shooting digital around 2005'ish. In my personal flickr account alone there is over 10,000 images- plus I have two additional flickr accounts (Handmade Nation & Paper Boat) that both have Milwaukee photos. This doesn't even begin to include the 1,000 of cellphone images I've captured since social media has taken over my life. So I made piles and attempted to make a Milwaukee set on flickr, but it was all pretty random and in the end, too much to try and keep simple.

I've come to realize over the past few years I have a lot of documentation (if you had an art show, birthday party or event that I was at, I most likely have photos from it in my archive) of things that have happened around me. From sifting through a lot of that, memories were triggered. A flood of emotions, inspiration and a sense of overwhelming love for the amount of people, events, places and happenings that Milwaukee has brought into my life followed. These photos string together a story of how one thing leads to another. That is always fascinating to me, how an insignificant conversation can become a life changing event much later on. And that is how I came to Milwaukee. A question I get daily still when people find out I'm from Seattle and have decided to live here with no plans on leaving.

2006 Flying kites with Evan Ross Murphy on the roof of the Fortress where I lived for years.

Based on that insignificance string of occurrences that can lead to life changing events- the story that brought me here begins over 20 years ago. It is centered around music, community and art- the foundation for everything I still do today. My early influences created the roots for my entire life, a good reminder for all of us to help create opportunities for others to realize their potential. I'll stay focused on the Milwaukee track because this is another train of thought entirely, but it's necessary to give a shout out to the all-ages venue that I grew up with called The Redmond Fire House that made a huge impact on who I am today. That space is an amazing example of a teen center that has been around long enough to see the long term effects of what a space like that can do for a creative community.

Back to Milwaukee.

darling floor
2006 The floor at the now defunct performance space Darling Hall.

It was the summer of 1995 in Chicago. I was 17, had just graduated high school and was on tour with my friends band
Patterns Make Sunrise from Seattle. The show that night was at the Fireside Bowl and we ended up staying at a kid named Fletcher's house. Since I was 14 I had become a compulsive letter writer and fantastic correspondent, so after our Chicago visit I kept in touch with him. Fletcher and I saw each other a few times over the next few years when he ended up in Seattle. I moved to Minneapolis in 1997 and at some point during that time Fletcher ended up moving to Milwaukee.

[I think this is an important part of the story to interject that Fletcher was one of many friends I had during this time who I met while traveling that I still know now. The penpal's of my youth are a large part of my community of today. The punk rock community I identified with as a teen was a tight-knit and well organized community based around independent music, zines and self-empowering culture.]

I came to visit Fletcher in 2000. It was one of those magical weekends where there was a lot of amazing things happening including this crazy art party. Someone had gotten permission (or I'm assuming had permission since no police ever came) to take over an empty office building in downtown Milwaukee. The entire building was filled with site-specific installations by local artists in every room. The night ended, for me, with a band that I now know as the legendary
Thousandaires, watching my future dancing around like mad. I feel in love with the city's energy and moved here shortly after that trip.

Inova Install
2008 My in progress installation for the Mary Nohl Fellowship exhibit at INOVA, the University of Milwaukee gallery.

2007 Call Me Lightning record release at Todd Wehr Auditorium. CML Frontman Nathan Lilley was my long term boyfriend, collaborator, inspiration and support for many projects I did here. There's no way to talk about my time in this city without giving him props and due thanks.

On April 1, 2001 I moved to Milwaukee after 4+ years in Minneapolis synchronously and/or cosmically right into the hub of Riverwest. A neighborhood where creative projects were unfolding at the time with music, performance, art and film- often all mashed together. My Milwaukee love story expands out from there over the next 10 years, with a short 4 month stint of living in New Orleans to work for a Mardi Gras season in 2002-03. When I was digging through my photos it was all laid out- some things more beautifully than others.
Some too painful to revisit and some too embarrassing to show.

Additional important Milwaukee milestones are:

Flying Fish Gallery Circa 2003
2002-2003 Flying Fish Gallery was my first attempt at a gallery, only open Saturdays. I started it with my boyfriend at the time Brent Goodsell in the front of his house on 800 E Clarke from what would now be catty-corner to the Riverwest Co-op.

Wooden Robot at Paper Boat
2007 Wooden Robot playing at David Stein's Paper Boat Gallery opening. I was one of 3 original members who played in Wooden Robot for the bands entire 5 year run (2002-2007). We were an instrumental band that had many member over the years. I played the musical saw and you may actually know our music which is the soundtrack of my documentary Handmade Nation.

Art vs. Craft 2004
2004 flyer for the first Art vs. Craft. After participating as a vendor at Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago I started Art vs. Craft in Milwaukee. I wanted my city to have a similar event where they could buy work directly from the maker. This show supports emerging and innovative makers in all mediums and is still held the Saturday after Thanksgiving every year.

Paper Boat
2006 Paper Boat Boutique & Gallery (second location). In 2005 I opened Paper Boat with my business partner Kim Kisiolek. For 4 years we sold the work of hundred's of independent makers from around the world. We also hosted gallery exhibits every single month. Eventually the economy in combination with my touring for Handmade Nation forced us to close on a good note in 2009. What we did there is cataloged here.

Sofia Arnold, working on mural at Sky High Gallery
2010 Sofia Arnold paints Sky High Gallery. Just this past June my sweetheart Aaron Polansky who owns Sky High Skateboard Shop just blocks away from the old Paper Boat cleaned out the stockroom and Sky High Gallery was born. Sofi's site-specific mural was up for 3 months as a part of our holiday pop-up shop.

Milwaukee, thank you for making me want to stay here. I may be gone a lot, but this is home and where I will always come back to.

Faythe Levine & Aaron Polansky at Sky High: promo-2
2010 Mike Goelzer took this photo of Aaron & I on our stoop. My Milwaukee future will unfold in this building.



It_Girl said...

Hi, Faythe!
We've been running around the same circles in the 6 years since I moved here. I always hear about things you're doing, but didn't realize just how involved you were in the art/music community in Milwaukee. I just wanted to tell you how much I loved this blog. It really makes me appreciate the city more than I already do, and I'm so glad we can both be a part of it.
-It Girl, Chelsea Muench

Johnny Z said...

Fantastic story and great name for it. How DO you say thank you to a city? You brought it all to life in your pictures and your words. I'd say you found some keystones of life in my old hometown: freedom, love and creativity. God bless you.

stephanie renee said...

milwaukee love!

j said...

Glad your Milwaukee future will be unfolding across the street. (And despite all the walks I took over to Paper Boat, it wasn't until viewing the pic in this post that I noticed the tin ceiling- gorgeous.) Please keep doing great things for Milwaukee.