It’s time to admit that Milwaukee’s search for a new flag will never end. Like Star Wars, Ghostbusters, or the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Milwaukee flag and the debate surrounding it is a multi-media franchise that always is, always has been, and always will be. “You’ve always been the caretaker,” Delbert Grady tells Jack Torrance in The Shining. He may as well have been talking about the Five Principles of Good Flag Design.
So here’s the latest: Thursday afternoon, the city’s Steering & Rules Committee heard a report from the Milwaukee Arts Board regarding the flag. Despite the years-long popularity of the so-called “People’s Flag of Milwaukee,” and despite a push to officially adopt the People’s Flag as the official Milwaukee flag, the Arts Board recommended the creation of a new, more inclusive process to come up with a new flag. The Arts Board assembled their report after the issue was handed to them from the Common Council last summer.
Called upon to act upon this report, the Steering & Rules Committee…chose not to act. Instead, it was decided that a three-person group of aldermen—Ald. Nik Kovac, Ald. Mark Borkowski, and Ald. Khalif Rainey—would meet with the City Clerk in the near future to decide, presumably, whether or not to follow the Arts Board’s advice and establish a new flag process, or to just go ahead and adopt the People’s Flag already.
Borkowski expressed a need for closure in the endless Milwaukee flag drama, but Kovac noted that the decision was a “multi-generational” one and that adopting a new flag would need some semblance of consensus. Right now, “I don’t think there’s a consensus,” Kovac said.
Rainey, a supporter of the People’s Flag, said the city was out of sync with the will of the people, and noted that the homegrown flag can be found at Bucks and Brewers games.
There were other supporters of the People’s Flag present at the meeting. In a canny move that only a true cynic would dare deem, well, cynical, three 3rd graders from Milwaukee College Prep were brought in by a teacher to speak about the flag’s symbols of peace and unity, the need to move forward as a city, and how government shouldn’t interfere in the matters of the people. Typical kid stuff.
“The community made this flag from our hearts, not the government,” read one of the students from a prepared statement. “The government may not like that, but this is Milwaukee’s flag, not the government’s.”
Although Borkowski and Rainey asked for a timetable for a final decision on the flag, none was established.
Here’s a mercifully brief recap of the never-ending drama so far:
In 2015, inspired by a TED Talk in which podcast host Roman Mars called the official Milwaukee flag one of the worst in the country, Milwaukee graphic designer Steve Kodis (and, eventually, non-profit organization Greater Together and others) spearheaded a grassroots contest to come up with a new flag. In June 2016, following a 1,000-entry design contest, Robert Lenz’s “Sunrise Over the Lake” was chosen by online voters as the People’s Flag. The symbol was soon embraced by much of Milwaukee, appearing on everything from shirts and stickers to bikes and beer. In July 2018, People’s Flag organizers made a presentation to the Common Council seeking official adoption of the flag. The presentation began well but was effectively shut down when various alders raised concerns about the non-inclusive nature of the People’s Flag contest. Further discussion—and the question of whether Milwaukee actually needed a new flag—was punted to the Milwaukee Arts Board.
[deep breath] In the fall and winter of 2018, following another presentation from People’s Flag organizers, the Milwaukee Arts Board determined that a new flag was indeed needed, and that the People’s Flag contest was indeed non-inclusive. The Board recommended that a request for proposal (RFP) be set up to come up with a new, official Milwaukee flag. Various elements were identified as important to the process, including:
• Include community input and town hall meetings, and community outreach conducted by Council members
• Previous submissions from the People’s Flag process would automatically be included with the general call for new entries
• The Council should provide funding for the process and the town hall meetings run by a consultant and attended by the designer(s)
• Design criteria should be left open
• The designer should submit at least three flag designs for consideration
• A public comment period should follow
• The final designs should be submitted to the Common Council for a final vote
The full report can be found here.
Again, no decision regarding the Arts Board’s report was reached at Thursday’s meeting. We will continue to cover the story of the Milwaukee flag. We have always been covering the story of the Milwaukee flag.