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A Conversation with Tia Richardson

Tia Richardson is an integrative community artist based in Milwaukee, WI. She gained local attention after collaborating with the Sherman Park community to create an outdoor mural entitled “Sherman Park Rising.”  In August of 2016, the Sherman Park area in Milwaukee, WI gained national attention after the unrest that occurred, learn more here. She sat down to talk about all this and the path that led her here.

Madison Grace: Have you always been interested in the arts?

Tia Richardson: Since I was about four or five; I would draw with colored pencils and markers. I did a lot of illustrations growing up with my dad. He’s an artist too. He doesn’t practice it full time but he taught me how to draw. When I was little I was always doodling, loved to color, loved to write stories; continuing all through high school.

MG: What did you do post high school?

TR: I didn’t have a straightforward path through college. I didn’t always have the best G.P.A in high school but I had some teachers who were advocates for me, along with my parents.  Because of my arts skills I was able to get into Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. My GPA alone would've made it really hard. I got into art school, went there for my first year and then I decided I wanted to transfer to a school where I could study different things, like language and be a part of the track team. I ran track all the way through high school, because of my dad, he was a track coach. I transferred to UW Stout, I was there for a semester. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study or what I wanted to major in. There were so many things and I didn’t want to pick just one;  Fine Art Major. I ended up transferring to MATC. I graduated there and I studied graphic design. Growing up it wasn’t on my radar, I wasn’t thinking to myself when I grow up I want to be a graphic designer. I graduated in 2003.

MG: After that long-winded journey, you've got a degree in graphic design, what comes next?

TR: When I graduated I worked at a small print company and I was behind a computer all day. Who knows where I’d be if I hadn’t gotten laid off. That’s really what started my community art focus. When I got laid off, I couldn’t find another job in that field. I went to some of the nonprofits my friends had recommended to me in the past, who teach arts. When I  approached these organizations, they needed me to have an idea of what I would teach. I went to Arts at Large and they accepted me right away. They helped me write a proposal, sit down with the teachers and work out the details. None of that was a part of my college education. All of those non- profits, Arts at Large and Artists Working in Education, they helped me start my community art career as a part time, contracted artist that would be in a school for a number of weeks, usually from 3 to 6 weeks. I discovered that I really enjoyed the creativity that went into figuring out what am I  going to do with this group in a way that's collaborative, in a way that's going to have a beautiful outcome, where everyone can participate. Murals are the best way that I can do that. The collaborative way of working on one big group project got me into what I’m doing now. That was in 2007. Ever since then I’ve been stepping it up and seeing how far people are willing to go in that process with me.

“Ever since then I’ve been stepping it up and seeing how far people are willing to go in that process with me,”

MG: What is an integrative community artist?

TR: The difference between a community artist and a traditional artist is, a traditional artist works in a studio to create work to buy and sell. They make what they want to create and they put it out there, regardless of if people like it or dislike it. Sometimes those artists work in public spaces and they get some type of community input. In my experience the majority of the public art that’s out there has a limited level of engagement with the community. A community artist, takes the community’s  ideas and includes them in the design process as much as possible. A community artist brings the community to the table.

 Sherman Park Rising Mural on 4715 W. Center St. Milwaukee, WI

Sherman Park Rising Mural on 4715 W. Center St. Milwaukee, WI

MG: What were the circumstances that led to the “Sherman Park Rising” Mural?

TR: Before the Sherman Park uprising of 2016, there was a group of community organizations that reached out and wanted to create a mural on a side of a building that had been vacant for a long time. Then after the unrest happened the project was put on hold because they didn’t have funding. A few months later the city contacted me and had attained funding, because of the unrest they wanted this  to be an investment, something permanent. I got on board and then it took about 9 months to find a permanent place to put the mural. By then it was 2017 and I met with the community twice to see what they wanted people to known about their community. And how they could move forward. There still was a lot of pain and anger about what had happened and how it had been handled. The best way, I thought, to move forward was to focus on the positives, what was going right in the community.

You can find out more about Tia Richardson and the Sherman Park Rising Mural Documentary Here.

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