Next Milwaukee speaker

"Symmetry" with Whitney Anderson

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February 22, 8:30am • Milwaukee Art Museum • part of a series on Symmetry

Photo credit: Lauren Wagner

On Friday, February 22nd, we’re returning with “Symmetry” with Whitney Anderson, talented local graphic designer and creative and owner of This event will be hosted at the Milwaukee Art Museum!

Whitney Anderson is a freelance graphic designer and creative who specializes in branding, lettering, and illustrations. She works with both small local start ups and large global companies alike to create individualized designs for print and packaging. Select clients include: Taste of Home, Disney, Lululemon, MOO, Kickapoo Coffee Roasters, United By Blue, Press Waffles, among others.

Below we chatted with Whitney and got to know her a little more.

What do you usually eat for breakfast? 
I’ve been on a big fried egg kick recently, but fresh fruit is usually my go-to. Accompanied by freshly brewed coffee, of course. 

What do people know you for? 
Vintage-inspired branding, lettering, and illustration.

How is Milwaukee special to you?
This wonderful city has been my home for the past 8 years and I absolutely love it. I’ve enjoyed exploring classic staples of the city as well as watching new restaurants and shops pop up throughout the city. Living so close to such a beautiful body of water and being able to take my dog to walk along the beach and play in the lake has been a truly unforgettable way to spend the warmer months, as well as attending countless musical events, festivals, and street fests that the city hosts all summer long. I’ve loved getting to know so many talented local creatives, small business owners, and other go-getters during my time in Milwaukee, and plan to stay here for the foreseeable future!

What inspires your creativity?
Oh man, more like what *doesn’t* inspire it? All jokes aside, I do feel that I find inspiration everywhere that I go. As I mentioned before, my style is heavily vintage inspired, so I find a lot of inspiration at antique stores, looking through old packaging and ephemera. I find a lot of color inspiration in nature and in my daily life. I’ve been told before, “You look like your work.” As in, my clothing style and colors line up well with my designs and colors that I use. I like to always be aware and receptive of my surroundings, as inspiration has stuck when I’ve least expected it in the past, while out and about. I’m the crazy person who is always snapping a pic of something or another to reference later on. 

What will you share with us during your talk?
I’m going to share about my journey from a full time job to full time freelance, and how I found balance and symmetry in my professional and personal life while learning how to adjust to those transitions.

Photo credit: Timothy O’Donnell

On Friday, January 25th, we’re returning with “Surreal” featuring Michael Pink, artistic director at the Milwaukee Ballet. This event will be hosted at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts!

Michael Pink is the longest serving artistic director in Milwaukee Ballet history. Since joining the Company in December of 2002, he has established himself as a prominent member of the Milwaukee arts community, demonstrating his commitment to the future of dance through new work, education and collaboration. (read more about his background here!)

Below we chatted with Michael and got to know him a little better.

What do you usually eat for breakfast?
English or Irish tea with cold milk. 

What do people know you for?
I have developed a reputation for being unconventional. Even when I’m presenting classical ballets, I’m not interested in doing it the way others have done it. I go back to the heart of the story I’m telling and work to create an experience that’s as emotionally compelling as it is beautiful. What’s most important to me is to tell a story that connects with the audience.

How is Milwaukee special to you?
Milwaukee has become home to my children, both have grown up here. Milwaukee is unique in that it’s big enough to offer you the resources to execute your vision, but it’s small enough for you to truly make an impact if you’re willing to work hard.

What inspires your creativity?
My imagination and people I create with.

What will you share with us during your talk?
The power of suggestion and surrealism in performing arts. 

On Friday June 29th, we’re returning with “Craft” featuring Elizabeth Rees of Chasing Paper at Third Branch Creative Studio!

Elizabeth Rees is the founder of Chasing Paper, a stylish removable wallpaper company that has developed a line of innovative, design-conscious removable applications and collaborated with numerous designers, artists and brands, including, Pottery Barn, West Elm, Betsey Johnson, Lisa Congdon, Molly Hatch, Rebecca Atwood, Soludos, Ashley Goldberg, Nickelodeon and many more. 
Below we caught up with Elizabeth to get to know her better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

I don’t typically eat breakfast (I know I know); just coffee or a cappuccino for me in the mornings!

What do people know you for?

Wallpaper! People have said “Oh my god your the wallpaper girl” too many times to count.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

Having grown up here and now coming full circle to buy my first house here with my husband, Milwaukee is about family. People are so warm and friendly here which is something that always struck me when I would come back from NYC.

What may people not know about you?

I have traveled to 37 countries and try to get to a new one every year. Travel is my greatest passion.

What drives your creativity?

Travel, books, art, people in a general way. In my day to day with Chasing Paper, it’s our customer. We get to interact with her through so many life moments. Going away to college, first apartments, first homes, first baby, second baby! and many moments in between. I want to create great products that help set the stage for happy homes.

What will you share with us about “Craft” in your talk?

Craft is such an interesting word and term. I hope to explore its different meanings and ways that it has shaped my life and career.

photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center, 2017


Faythe Levine is an artist, director, author, and the assistant curator at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan WI. Her practice and curatorial vision is centered around ongoing themes of community, creativity, awareness, process, empowerment and documentation. Amongst her many projects, they include Sign Painters (2013) andHandmade Nation (2009), both feature length documentaries with accompanying books and extensive tours throughout the States. Below we caught up with Faythe to get to know her better.

What do people know you for?

I’ve worn a lot of different hats so it sort of depends where I am and what the context is. In Wisconsin folks know usually know me from starting the handmade event Art vs. Craft (2004-2014), running my various past gallery spaces (Paper Boat and Sky High) and sometimes from serving them drinks when I was a bartender in one of my past lives. In a more broad scope people know me as the filmmaker who did a documentary called Sign Painters and another one called Handmade Nation.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

Milwaukee gave me space as an artist to learn who I am and supported me through various growing pains on that journey.

What may people not know about you?

I’m a left handed only child who’s first memories are all from traveling around the country in the the Maroon Balloon, the name of our family’s van, that I lived with my folks the year prior to me starting school.

What drives your creativity?

My general curiosity in finding things and impulsive behavior to share those things with other people.

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on “Courage”?

While I am still working on the direction I am going to take speaking to  the theme of “Courage,” I can see myself discussing personal elements and lessons of my last few years. For example, I learned lessons on slowing down to take care of myself and trusting my gut. This path led me to living in rural Tennessee for a stint, then feeling aimless wandering around looking for direction, and then fairly recently finding my way back to Wisconsin for my current position at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. I’m thinking this will push me to talk about how important I believe community is, what being a permission giver can look like and how having courage means trusting yourself and those you choose to have around you.

Ticket registration opens Monday, March 26th at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket while space remains tickets are free but limited!

photo by Joe Kirschling


Todd Umhoefer is a multi-media artist, songwriter, and composer. The musician behind the experimental folk project Old Earth, Todd is an ardent traveler with tours throughout the US and Europe. He has produced and performed dozens of solo albums and EP’s (alongside two film scores) to critical acclaim and collaborated with numerous regional musicians. Below we caught up with Todd to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

I’m normally asleep during breakfast time and don’t have much of a regular eating schedule. A bowl of cereal is pretty great any time though!

What do people know you for?

Probably foremost as being a musician and the person behind Old Earth, but hopefully more so for trying to be positive and helpful to others.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

It’ll always be where I’m from and where the majority my loved ones live. It’s special because it’s familiar, yet it’s growing in ways that feel new and I’d like to see where it all goes.

There’s a lot of potential here to develop a presence as a creative, but it’s important to ignore the gatekeepers and simply make things because you think they should exist. It’s a small enough place that you will eventually find allies.

What may people not know about you?

That sometimes I’m not very positive or helpful — but we can all learn from each other. Also I lived in Sonoma, California for some time.

What drives your creativity?

Compulsion and a sense of legacy. 

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on “Curiosity”?

What curiosity is and isn’t and how it’s influenced me and my creative process. I also will share some of the rewards and challenges of a lifestyle composing experimental music. I’m excited to hear what other people are curious about and how many of their ideas they test too.

Ticket registration opens Monday, February 19th at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket while space remains  tickets are free but limited!


Michael Nieling is a designer, educator, father, and full-time spaz. He is the Creative Director at Ocupop, a creative agency that has led design projects and campaigns for companies at all ends of the spectrum — from Google, Facebook, and Mozilla to PBS, SXSW and Burton Snowboards to countless successful (and horribly failed) startups. Michael is also co-founder of Kunoa Cattle Company. Traveling in from Honolulu, HI, we caught up with Michael to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

My family actually makes fun of me because I am so predictable in this regard. I have granola, yogurt and berries for breakfast EVERY morning. It is my favorite food. I am sad and boring.

What do people know you for?

I guess generally, if I am known for anything, it is my candid, personal, somewhat off-color style of sharing the stories of our successes and failures in a way that seems to resonate with a lot of creative people. Beyond that, people that know me well, know me for being a human border collie - a complete spaz who cannot sit still and loves to constantly be running at full speed. Oh, and I live in Hawaii, people like when I bring that up, especially when it is negative 50 degrees in Milwaukee.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

My wife grew up in Milwaukee and still has family there, so we spend every summer in the city and I work out of Ocupop’s studios in the Fifth Ward. It is by far the best Midwest city — and I know this because I have experienced them all — we’ve lived in Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago and Milwaukee over the years. Milwaukee has all the benefits of a bigger city with much less of the negatives that size usually brings and the outdoor activities blow away any of the other options. The ability to go surfing, sailing, swimming and paddling on Lake Michigan right out your front door is pretty magical thing that makes Milwaukee really special to me.

What may people not know about you?

Throughout my entire life, since I was in early elementary school, I have dealt with mild to severe anxiety and depression. Though on the outside looking in, I am constantly going a hundred miles an hour and seemingly confident and doing well, I am perpetually waging an internal battle with nervous feelings of inadequacy and generally speaking, sick to my stomach.

What drives your creativity?

I love solving problems. I love figuring shit out. As the world gets more automated, sophisticated and efficient with technology, machine learning, and outsourced labor I find more and more that creativity is the major differentiator. Creative people, especially those with just enough confidence to take on new challenges outside of their comfort zone are not only NOT being obsoleted, but they are becoming more and more valuable. That feeling of facing unknown challenges, learning deeply and working with smart people to craft a solution drives me day in and day out, nothing is more rewarding. Well that and I love proving my anxiety and imposter complexes wrong.

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on “Pioneer”?

“Everyone is going to hate this and think I am full of shit.’

That’s me — the voice booming inside my head every time I step on stage at an event. Every time I speak up in a meeting. Every time I present work or paddle out for a surf. For a guy who brims with self-confidence outwardly, that awful internal pep talk reverberates over and over again, perpetually casting doubt, challenging me to prove it wrong.

I am hoping to give a talk full of insight, inspiration, and imposter complexes — with every laugh, tear, and expletive focused on using personal doubt and internal perspective to fuel creativity and success.

If you have the same shitty life coach, you should come; it’ll probably be great. Though I f***ing doubt it.

Ticket registration opens Monday, January 22nd at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!


Mark Fairbanks is the Executive Director of Islands of Brilliance, a non-profit organization that teaches creative skills to students on the autism spectrum. Mark and his wife, Margaret, a special education teacher, founded Islands of Brilliance (using all the knowledge gained from raising their son, Harry, who is on the spectrum) to increase the likelihood that the students will be independent as adults. Started in 2012, the organization is now entering its 5th year and has grown to include chapters in Minneapolis and Duluth, as well as workshops held in Portland and Chicago. Below, we caught up with Mark to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

I kind of have a rotation of stuff. One is fresh fruit with yogurt and granola. That’s what I had this morning—with a side of leftover popcorn from last night. I can binge for a week on toast if we pick up good crusty bread. The household favorite is what we call an egg scramble, which we generally make on the weekends. It’s a better version of Benji’s Hoppel Poppel. Ours is made with fried potatoes, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, hot peppers, and then scramble the eggs in at the end. Cover liberally with Cholula hot sauce. Oh, and black coffee is a constant of course.

What do people know you for?

Lol. That’s a good question. I guess it depends on which decade you’re referring to. I was widely known as a really good designer/art director/creative director up until 2008, when I pretty much left the advertising business behind. Then there was the Translator period, when people couldn’t figure out what we were doing. Translator was essentially a creative sandbox that was applying design process and principals to any number of challenges. I think now I’m widely known for Islands of Brilliance, which from a creative process perspective is an evolving social impact design example. The willingness to leave behind what I had been successful at and try something completely different is probably a common thread.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

Without the initial and ongoing generosity of the creativity community in Milwaukee, Islands of Brilliance would never have become what it is. Plain and simple, I am indebted to the people here. And that’s as special as it gets.

What may people not know about you?

I love gardening. Specifically native species, prairie flowers, and plants that need less water. A lot of my art and design takes place in my yard now. I call it painting with a shovel. We have a pretty hectic schedule, but my wife Margaret and I often work eight hours a day on the yard during the summer on the weekends. I’ve found that’s my therapy. Interestingly, I read there’s a microbe in the dirt that has the same effect as serotonin. I always wondered why I felt so good after digging in the earth, and there’s an actual scientific reason for it. Yes, dirt makes me happy. 

What drives your creativity?

You know, I honestly don’t have an answer to that. I’ve been creative for as far back as I have memory—I’ve been making stuff forever. It’s been as natural as breathing. I’ve certainly had influences from time to time, but the driving force is of a different nature. I think I have good antennae, if you will. I’m able to pick up on signals and ideas that are in the ether. I’m not sure people can really own creativity, some just are better at channeling it than others. I meditate every day, and I think a quiet mind is as good as anything to drive creativity.

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on “Pioneer”?

The theme is “Pioneer,” so I’ve been giving some thought as to what makes someone a pioneer. My feeling is that it is an individual—or group of individuals—who are the first to explore new areas but are willing to leave behind what “is known” in order to do it. That includes conventional wisdom and even past personal success. It seems to me that how a pioneer manages fear would be some interesting ground to cover. I’ll be weaving together personal stories, anecdotes, and insights from people smarter than me. It will be a different talk for me and involve taking some risks, but that’s in keeping with the theme, right?

Ticket registration opens Monday, Oct 23rd at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!



Dr. Katherine Wilson is the Executive Director of the Zeidler Center for Public Discussion, a non-profit group whose mission is to foster civil dialogue & invite trust in the midst of differences. Their trained facilitators get called in for tough conversations that call for deep listening and empathy, like Police + Community Listening Circles. Dr. Wilson’s Ph.D. is in genocidal studies, and she knows the powerful role compassion can play in overcoming barriers. Below, we caught up with Dr. Wilson to get to know her better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?

I’ve got four urban chickens and there’s nothing like getting warm eggs from under the butt of a chicken each morning for breakfast! I’m a big breakfast fan so, along with the eggs, I usually have cottage cheese, Black Forest bacon, half an avocado, tomato, and pickled jalapeños from my garden.

What do people know you for?

Probably for wearing a lot of hats! Most people know me through the work I do as Executive Director of the Zeidler Center, and Associate Director of Greater Together. In my off time, I teach Latin dance through the Delaware House, and I’m on a sailing race team at the Milwaukee Yacht Club. Before getting involved in the non-profit world, I finished a PhD in genocide studies from UW-Milwaukee. Studying the ways that communities break down and build themselves back up drives the work I do today to facilitate civil dialogue between groups in tension.

How is Milwaukee special to you?

I love Milwaukee. It’s a great size for a city – right on the water, great neighborhoods, low traffic compared with larger cities but still retains a beautiful diversity. The food culture here is taking off. That being said, Milwaukee is also ground zero for embodying the challenges of segregation and systemic racism baked into this country’s history. Positively framed: There are a lot of opportunities to dig in, get involved, and be part of positive actions that really move the dial.

What may people not know about you?

One of my life goals is to sail around the world.

What drives your creativity?

What drives my creativity is exploring outside my expectations, my city, my culture, everything that I consider “normal.” I do this by inviting new people into my home and through travel.

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on “Compassion”?

I’m going to talk about compassion—basically our response to suffering – in others, in ourselves, and in the world.   How do we define it, practice it, and what are its limits? As someone who’s spent a long time studying mass atrocity, I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned by listening to survivors and perpetrators, reading testimonies, and thinking about how we interface with suffering. Also, I’d like to touch on the idea of compassion fatigue.

Ticket registration opens Monday, Sept 18th at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited! 


Dasha Kelly is a nationally published writer, poet, artist, and consultant. In 2016, she was named Artist of the Year by the city of Milwaukee, and she has twice been a finalist as Poet Laureate for the State of Wisconsin. Dasha is also the founder of Still Waters Collective, a resource network for writers and storytellers, which has crafted programs and community initiatives using creative writing and spoken word to build leadership and shape self-esteem. Below, we caught up with Dasha to get to know her better.

  1. What do you typically eat for breakfast?  Croissant, banana, coffee.
  2. What do people know you for?  Writing, performing, mentoring and building.
  3. How is Milwaukee special to you?  I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Milwaukee for a long time.  I’m frustrated by the complacency in the water, but seeing so many bold, creative and productive conversations and partnerships in recent years have definitely bolstered the love side of things.
  4. What may people not know about you?  I’m a high-functioning introvert.
  5. What drives your creativity?  I don’t know that anything drives my creativity, suggesting it needs fuel or a combustion apparatus or a reason…  My processor for the whole world is creativity: connecting dots that I haven’t seen connected before.  This is finding shortcuts in a commute, combining mismatched fashion patterns, negotiating a free can of soda, writing a one-woman show.  It’s all the same creative brain, always on, always celebrating dots.
  6. What are you going to talk to us about this month?  My charge and challenge about the idea of “genius.”

Ticket registration opens Monday, August 21st at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited! 


Caressa Givens is the community engagement and marketing coordinator for Bublr Bikes, a bike share with 57 stations and just over 500 bikes intended for short trips here in the city. Caressa originally studied printmaking at MIAD but found her way into bike culture through Wisconsin Bike Fed, as a cycling safety instructor. Below, we caught up with Caressa to get to know her better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast?  Something with an egg on it or a cup of coffee with a handful of honey roasted peanuts (yeah I know)

What do people know you for? Being a little funny and mostly sassy (basically, I am a spicy bold bag of chips).

How is Milwaukee special to you? It’s the ‘thing’ that I have committed to the longest. It’s my favorite t-shirt that everyone wants me to get rid of because of all of the holes and soy sauce stains, but there is no chance in H-E-double hockey sticks, sorry not sorry.

What may people not know about you? I can drive 3 different styles of fork lifts. I have a certification!

What drives your creativity? When people tell me how much healthier and happier they are when they can use a Bublr bike to get around. It brings me to tears, ask my co-workers!

What are you going to talk to us about in your talk on "Equality”? I am going to talk about the difference between equality and equity when it comes to access to things like basic resources such as education, jobs, and in this case transportation.

Ticket registration opens Monday, July 24th at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!