There is no other place in Milwaukee like Mitchell Street. In the most densely populated area of the city, the street has remained one of Milwaukee’s most animated and diverse corridors. From its commercial heyday in the 1950s to its eclectic present, this mainstreet has been home to countless stories of grand commercial success and decline as successive waves of immigrants made their way on the street.
Beginning in fall of 2012, Sonja Thomsen and Adam Carr have been exploring the many layers of Mitchell Street. Together they created Listening to Mitchell, an installation of image and sound that transforms over fifty interviews into a site-specific experience of place and its collective memory. With the installation taking shape amongst the seven block corridor, from the Modjeska to St. Stan’s, the artists are inviting the public to join them in a multifaceted conversation with Mitchell Street.
José Pérez, Alderman of the 12th District, which includes Historic Mitchell Street, has said, “Listening to Mitchell is a fantastic spark to begin the process of rethinking our own histories and future.”
Polly Morris, chair of the Public Art Subcommittee of the City of Milwaukee Arts Board, has said, “We are delighted to provide Sonja and Adam with an opportunity to expand the model and methodology for community engaged art making they first developed with here, mothers are. Artists like Thomsen and Carr allow us to understand ourselves, our neighborhoods, our history, and our aspirations in new ways. The ‘listening’ in Listening to Mitchell also involves seeing, and like ethnographers, the artists have unearthed their material — stories and images — through close involvement with the Mitchell Street neighborhood over an extended period of time.”
The installation and programming of Listening to Mitchell will take place in phases throughout the summer of 2014:
The Grand Opening
At 723 W. Mitchell, Listening to Mitchell converts a formerly vacant storefront into an immersive audio installation, allowing the audience to enter the tangle of Mitchell Street’s many voices and narratives in an exciting new way. To produce this piece, constructed from interview excerpts, Thomsen & Carr are partnering with acclaimed engineering firm Arup and acoustic consultants Ryan Biziorek and Shane Myrbeck. Visitors will be “fully immersed in a composed soundscape as they have likely never been before,” said Myrbeck. “This approach allows Sonja and Adam to craft the work in a truly multi-sensory fashion, playing with instinctual and physiological elements of how we hear, and how what we hear informs our impression of immediate space.”
The Grand Opening ceremony, on July 11th from 6-8pm on 8th and Mitchell, officially kicks off the installation and project as a whole, featuring remarks from Thomsen & Carr, Alderman José Pérez, State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa, Rudy Gutierrez, President of BID 4, Polly Morris from the Milwaukee Arts Board and more. The sound installation will run until August 10th, with open hours on Thursdays (3:00-6:30pm), Fridays (3:00-6:30pm), and Sundays (2:00-5:00pm).
See & hear Listening to Mitchell on the street
Listening to Mitchell’s images can be found throughout the street, like a treasure hunt, from building-sides to storefront windows to checkout counters. These bright, poppy images flirt with the language of advertising, referencing the street’s history of commerce. Rather than selling products, however, the project’s artworks point towards the street’s latent web of experience using objects as an entry point.
While walking the street, visitors will be prompted through the artworks to access a cell phone tour created by the artists. Dial 414-921-2622, followed by 1-20#, to hear audio pieces constructed around 20 Mitchell Street themes that emerged through the interview process. These include Whose street is this anyways? (8#), Go out and play (12#), In our father’s shadow (16#), Nothing matters when we are dancing (20#), and more. Callers can dial 0# to leave their own Mitchell Street reflections.
An incomplete guide
The artists worked closely with designer Nate Pyper to create Listening to Mitchell: An incomplete guide, a printed publication pulling together the many points of access created by Listening to Mitchell. A collage of artwork, tips from the artists, and stories gathered during the interview process, the guide gives visitors a series of suggestions to experience the street and installation. The guide can be picked up at businesses on Mitchell Street, as well as locations throughout the city, such as the Old South Side Settlement Museum, Forest Home Library, United Community Center’s Latino Arts Inc, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, UW-Milwaukee’s INOVA Gallery, the Pitch Project, Sharon Lynne Wilson Center, and more.
Throughout the run of the installation, the artists are offering a variety of programming and events to engage community members with Listening to Mitchell. In addition to a series of walking tours, including an in-depth tour for Historic Milwaukee Inc.’s Doors Open Milwaukee, the artists will produce impromptu events, taking cues from memories collected during the interview process. These include a parking lot kickball game, portraits on the street, dance/music performances, unrehearsed storytelling circles, and more. A listing of events can be found at: https://listeningtomitchell.wordpress.com/event-schedule/
Listening to Mitchell on-the-air
Listening to Mitchell is partnering with WUWM’s Lake Effect to bring voices from the street to the air, every Friday morning from July 11th to the installation’s completion. Listen as the color and texture of Mitchell Street come to life, delivered through 14 short-form radio pieces produced from the many hours of audio and interviews collected by the artists.
Videos on ArtBabble
Intern and video artist Maeve Jackson is producing a series of videos capturing a wide range of the Listening to Mitchell process, from interviews in the field to development in the studio to response on the street. The Chipstone Foundation is hosting this series on ArtBabble, which can be seen here: http://www.artbabble.org/topic/series/listening-mitchell
Deinstallation & beyond
Listening to Mitchell will begin deinstallation in September. Concurrently, a new project website (listeningtomitchell.org) will launch with an interactive map of the installation. This digital platform will both represent and extend the reach of Listening to Mitchell, creating the potential for partnerships with academic institutions and other collaborations.
Moving forward, Thomsen&Carr will seek opportunities to meaningfully integrate their research and work into further cultural explorations of Mitchell Street. The artists are currently looking into a partnership with UW-Milwaukee, with the potential their field school iterating on Mitchell Street. Additionally, the artists will seek opportunities for permanent and traveling installations, develop curricular materials for local schools, deliver lectures, and develop the model used with Listening to Mitchell for further community-engaged public art projects.
About the Artists:
Thomsen & Carr collaborate to create site-specific public artworks. Utilizing image and sound, their projects create immersive experiences inverting the private into public space. Their first collaboration, in 2011-2012, was here, mothers are.
Sonja Thomsen (b. 1978) is a Milwaukee-based artist whose multifaceted practice includes sculpture, interactive installation, photography and site-specific public art. Her projects make tangible, the experience of seeing and elusiveness of knowledge. Since earning an MFA in photography at the San Francisco Art Institute (2004), she has worked with the Reykjavik Museum of Photography, New Mexico Museum of Art, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the Center for Photography at Woodstock, among others. In 2011 she was awarded the Mary L. Nohl Fellowship for Individual Artists. Thomsen’s work resides in the collections of the Milwaukee Art Museum, Reykjavík Museum of Photography and the Midwest Photographers Project at Museum of Contemporary Photography. She is a member of the international photography collective Piece of Cake and co-director of The Pitch Project gallery.
Adam Carr (b. 1984) is a Milwaukee-based media producer and cultural field worker. He graduated from Carleton College in 2007 with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy. Between 2008 and 2011, he was producer at public radio station 88Nine RadioMilwaukee, creating nearly 1000 short-for radio stories on a wide variety of topics. Currently, he finds work at the intersection of community and communication with recent projects including work with the Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, Milwaukee Art Museum, United Way, Reagan High School, LISC Milwaukee, the Healthy Neighborhood Initiative, Arts@Large, the Greater Milwaukee Committee, Plaid Tuba, Artists Working in Education, and the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion.