Public Policy Forum Blog

Does Milwaukee Need a Cultural Plan?

Milwaukee’s cultural landscape looms especially large this summer. At both large- and small-scales – from Summerfest’s spotlight on local music and the new Bucks Arena groundbreaking to a recent vibrant spread of color and ideas on neighborhood mural projects throughout the city – investment and participation in arts, culture, and entertainment have a profound influence on Milwaukee’s social and economic vitality.

The Forum has conducted extensive research on metro Milwaukee’s crucial cultural gems, and we continue to inform ongoing related debate. Earlier this spring, Forum researchers were asked to brief local arts and cultural funders on our 2013-15 reports that assessed the needs of our region’s cultural assets and explored public funding models from other metro regions. The conversation quickly turned to larger questions about the overall long-term vision for Milwaukee’s arts and cultural landscape – What aspirations do various stakeholders have for the future of Milwaukee? How does Milwaukee’s abundance of arts and cultural assets and activities fit into those visions? What are the amenities and opportunities people desire, and how will they be sustained? 

The Forum was commissioned to research how other communities have addressed similar questions through formal cultural planning processes. Developing a vision: Analysis of cultural planning in six peer regions and recommendations for Greater Milwaukee, we analyzed cultural plans in six communities, each offering a distinct context that could be constructive for Milwaukee civic leaders interested in undertaking similar efforts.  Key elements of the six benchmark plans are laid out in the following table:

Cultural plans in six of benchmark communities: Key elements

Our analysis of the plans also covered mechanics such as the impetus that drove local leaders to adopt a formal cultural planning process, the plan’s primary objectives, the manner in which the plan scope was determined, the governance structure, the stakeholder engagement strategies employed, and the results of the planning process.  

From there, we drew insights about key decision points we thought to be especially relevant to Milwaukee, and provided some recommendations on the planning process should Milwaukee leaders decide to proceed with a cultural planning effort.

Anne Chapman