Milwaukee is the third most segregated city in the United States behind Detroit and Cleveland. Look at the racial, ethnic, religious, and gender diversity in Milwaukee. Look at where you spend your time; your neighborhood, workplace, parks, recreation areas, social life, local media outlets, religious institutions, concert venues, and musical selections. What do you see? Is your experience reflective of the dire statistic that lies heavily on Milwaukee’s soul? Since 2007 these are the questions 88Nine Radio Milwaukee challenges its listeners to ask themselves each and every day through the medium they work in, music.
88Nine Radio Milwaukee has used their platform to encourage connection across often seemingly alienated groups of people in the City of Milwaukee through music. They believe that when people have music in common, they tend to form improved impressions of others. People have a tendency to affiliate musical taste with personal values. The more one’s connection to music expands across all levels of racial, gender, age, and economic differences, so does their propensity to connect with someone else because of shared musical tastes.
Since 2015, the Argosy Foundation has partnered with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee in an effort to augment this work through the Cultural Commons project. Cultural Commons seeks to enhance cross-cultural relationships and partnerships through a series of social events focused on music and spoken word art. Annually, 88Nine hosts three events aimed at facilitating discussions in order to build bridges across race, age, gender, culture, abilities and sexual orientation.
The Cultural Commons Insight Events are intentionally organized to create discussion platforms for diverse groups from all backgrounds to engage in conversations that reveal the challenges and opportunities for building a culturally diverse and inclusive Milwaukee. These events create pathways for people to get to know each other in unique settings. Francesca Kampfer, Development Director at 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, notes, “Although there are a lot of organizations and groups that bring people together, one thing that Cultural Commons has that other groups do not is the connection to music,” Francesca explained. “88Nine uses the power of music to bring people together while hosting events.”
In “Band Together,” one of the most popular Cultural Commons events in 2016, over 300 people came to listen to a diverse lineup of bands and spoken word artists. “One thing we tried to do that turned out really well,” Francesca continued, “was booking several different types of bands at the same time, in the same location.. Knowing that each band will bring their own unique crowds.” The sold-out event was such a success that it has become an annual tradition for 88Nine Radio Milwaukee.
According to Francesca, the Cultural Commons Steering Committee is a key to the success of this work. “The steering committee was selected and chosen to reflect the kind of audience we want to draw for our insight events. Those who serve on the steering committee, not only do they shape programming, but they will invite their contacts to the Cultural Commons insight events; which will build the audience we want.” The Steering Committee recognized that one of the challenges 88Nine faced as they spearheaded this new initiative was making sure the impact was deep enough for their listeners to really digest. “When we first started this project, we hosted really big events with great turn outs,” explained Francesca. “After a while we noticed, although we were successful bringing people together, [that] we weren’t having the impact that we wanted to see. As a result, we started hosting smaller events that had a more personal impact on each individual.”
For example, 88Nine Cultural Commons has also partnered with Ex Fabula, a local organization which uses the power of storytelling to bring people together, to host an event called Stories of Inclusion. Through this event, individuals gathered to share personal stories of a time in their life when they felt excluded. After the presented stories were heard, Cultural Commons separated everyone by tables to create a more intimate setting with their neighbors. “I personally remember sitting next to a young African-American man who told a really detailed story about his experience while driving in a white suburb… when he was looking me in my eyes, telling us his personal story, it put me in that place,” shared Francesca. “I understood, as a white woman, much more where he was coming from and so did everyone else at our table.” In order to gauge how Stories of Inclusion impacted participants, a post-event survey showed people strongly agreed that it was an effective learning opportunity.
Looking into the future, the Steering Committee for Cultural Commons is constantly exploring additional ideas on how their Insight Events could grow within the Greater Milwaukee Area. One suggestion the committee is currently floating is a two-day summit that would focus on the evolution of the Hip Hop culture. Through food, music and visual art, 88Nine plans to investigate how Hip Hop captured the hearts and minds of millions worldwide. The event would include guest speakers from each decade of Hip Hop as experts to explain how their style of music brought people together.
88 Nine Radio Milwaukee has created the right mix of both small and large events that reach their large audience. Through their social media platforms and radio segments, 88Nine continues to engage with the local community to promote awareness and to encourage participation in these events. “We have over 80,000 social media followers, over 70,000 listeners and our website, on average, has over 40,000 visitors. Although our events might draw a crowd size of 200-300, we are reaching thousands of people across the state of Wisconsin with our message,” Francesca shared.
As the project continues to impact the larger community, Cultural Commons remains a collaboration of individuals and organizations coming together to encourage the development of cross-cultural relations. The Argosy Foundation is proud to partner with 88Nine Cultural Commons as they seek to create a better, more inclusive and engaged city through music, stories and events. For more information about 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, please visit
Past Cultural Commons Events:
Fostering Neighborhood Collaboration by Makenzie Boettcher
Cultural Commons: stories of inclusion by Emily Talapa
How an old letter changed thoughts of race in Milwaukee by Makenzie Boettcher
Band Together, Wednesday, October 5 by Nate Imig.