Next Milwaukee speaker

Dasha Kelly

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August 25, 8:30am • Alice's Garden Urban Farm • part of a series on Genius


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!


Zeynab Ali is an author and youth activist originally from Kenya. Below, we caught up with Zeynab to get to know her better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? Typically, my family eats traditional Somali breakfast food such as: injera, marwax, jabati, or seasoned fried eggs with bread.Besides that, since I’m not really a breakfast person. I like to eat leftover dinner.

But most days I don’t eat breakfast, especially during school days. I just leave school hungry, which isn’t healthy, but I’m used to it now.

What do people know you for? At school I’m known to be very shy and quiet, but outside of school people see me as very driven, caring, respected and someone who has a great future ahead of them.

How is Milwaukee special to you? I’ve lived in Louisville, KY which is not a great city compared to Milwaukee. What I love about Milwaukee is that there’s always something going on. Despite the poverty and violence rate, there are always youth and community members organizing events and meetings to better our city. That’s something I never saw in Louisville. I love how we get together and support each other in times of crisis rather than not taking action just because they don’t know the family that was effected by a bad situation. Also, Milwaukee is the only city I know that has numerous of youth organizations unlike other cities who don’t have programming for youth.

What may people not know about you? I wish people knew more about me to be honest; it would make my life easier. I think people should know that I don’t like to be in the center of attention. It gets awkward for me and I just never know how to respond back. I really enjoy hearing about other people’s success. I feel like everywhere I go and even at school, people get so surprised that I wrote a book. And to me it’s really not a big deal, because honestly anyone can write a book. So, I wish people didn’t see it as a big deal because for me writing is just a therapeutic thing I do to let emotions out, because I faced a lot of hardship at a young age and I still do till this day.That’s another thing. I often smile a lot even when I’m dealing with personal issues. I think others get the impression that I’m a happy person, but in reality I’m just hiding my pain. Also, I want people to know that the issues I talk about as an activist are issues I either faced or go through right now. Therefore, I can connect with residents who go through that which is why I take it so serious.

What drives your creativity? Sometimes I see things or hear about things that make me mad usually related to current issues and it inspires me to come up with all sorts of ideas.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? I am going to be speaking about my personal experiences with “Survival,” part of which prompted writing my book “Cataclysm: Secrets of the Horn of Africa.” Some of the book serves as a memoir of me and my family’s struggle fleeing Somali during the horrific civil war there in the 90′s and living in Kenyan refugee camps before coming to the United States. One thing I think we don’t focus enough on too is what immigrant children face, especially as first generation English speakers. When we talk about immigration we often talk about the issues facing adults and immigrant parents, yet young immigrants and children of immigrants are often facing a variety of emotional and mental health struggles too. Sometimes this is due to kinds of responsibilities they hold at a young age for their families too. I would like to speak to this too.Ticket registration opens Monday, June 26th at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!

photo by Matt Haas

Ray Chi is a modern renaissance man. He is a sculptor, a site-specific installation artist, a furniture maker, a multi-media artist, an interactive designer. His interactive work includes videos and interactive guides for many museums around the world, from our own Milwaukee Art Museum to the Frida Kahlo Museum, where he got a behind-the-scenes tour of the artist’s home. He has made art of teeter totters and bicycles, as well as turned bicycle racks into public art. Much of Ray’s work blurs the lines between work and play, form and function, and art and entertainment. Below, we caught up with Ray to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? On a good day - homemade sourdough bread with a poached farm-fresh egg on a bed of baby arugula. On 99% of days - whatever leftover breakfast my son didn’t eat that I have time to stuff in my face while racing out the door.

What do people know you for? I’m not sure why people would know me but probably for my high level of modesty.

How is Milwaukee special to you? It is the rare place where you can own a home, find fossils on a beach, catch a Kool Keith show, eat some pretty good bibim-bop, and find a good parking spot - all with relative ease! Also, American Science and Surplus.

What may people not know about you? I am a classically trained cellist and have a permanent retainer on the inside of my lower teeth.

What drives your creativity? I see so much potential in everyday objects and mundane spaces in the city. I try to design possibilities for the ordinary to become extraordinary and look for ways to increase encounters with beauty in our daily lives. I am also always inspired by the boundless ingenuity of children and the quiet rigor and persistence of the makers and artists that make up Milwaukee’s creative community.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? I will be speaking about my work in the context of serendipitous moments and relationships that have helped shape the person I am today. I will touch on public art, collaborative work, furniture design, playgrounds, American Movie, and more!

Ticket registration for “SERENDIPITY” opens here, Monday, May 15th
at 11 AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!



John Gurda is a historian, writer, and tv personality who has published over 20 books. John researches and writes about Milwaukee neighborhoods, people, industries and places of worship and is fascinated by "why things are the way they are." Below we caught up with John to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? Just the basics: cereal, fruit, and OJ.

What do people know you for? The five-hour Making of Milwaukee PBS documentary, and my role as the bike-riding historian on PBS’s Around the Corner with John McGivern.

How is Milwaukee special to you? Milwaukee is in a really nice sweet spot between large and small; we have all the resources of a metropolis but the manageability and human scale of a much smaller community.

What may people not know about you? I spent six months as a Congressional page when I was in high school. I’m also the defending rock-skipping champion (senior division) at the Ontonagon (MI) Labor Day celebration.

What drives your creativity? Beats me. I’ve always wanted to make things.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? Beyond the Present and Beyond Security, focusing on my rather improvised career as a Milwaukee historian.

Ticket registration for “BEYOND” opens here, Monday, April 24th
 at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!


Malkia Stampley is an actor, director, and producer who returned home to Milwaukee after working in New York and Chicago and co-founded  Bronzeville Arts Ensemble, where she is now the Artistic Director. Bronzeville Arts Ensemble illuminates the Black experience in America through theater and creates artistic and educational opportunities. Below we caught up with Malkia to get to know her better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? A green smoothie: avocado, flax, chia seed, mixed berries, Amazing Green green tea + lime powder, spring mix greens, coconut water. 

What do people know you for? That I am an actor, mom, wife and vegan. 

How is Milwaukee special to you? I was born and raised here.

What may people not know about you? I cannot watch horror or thriller movies…and even heated confrontations make me anxious.

What drives your creativity? Collaboration.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? I will explore taboos (some widely recognized and others I will dare to diagnose) in our local and national theater community as well as touch on the entertainment industry as a whole through the lens of an artist of color. 

Ticket registration for “Taboo” opens here Monday, March 27th at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!

On Friday, February 24th, we’re returning with “Moments” ft. Daniel Holter

Daniel Holter is a producer, mixer, composer, and songwriter and partner behind Wire & Vice, recording studio located in a 1920s-era post office just outside of Milwaukee. Daniel has mixed music by bands and artists such as Nick Lowe, Field Report, Over The Rhine, Amos Lee, Blitzen Trapper, YØUTH, David Choi, among many others. Daniel is also a co-founder of The License Lab, an independent resource for producers, editors and music supervisors. Below we caught up with Daniel to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? Sendik's fresh squeezed OJ is ridiculously great. I have a glass every morning. And my youngest son loves Cinnamon Life… so I grab a bowl of that most mornings, too, as a nod to him. Also, Valentine or Colectivo coffee.

What do people know you for? I suppose as a music producer, though most of the work they might have heard is the stuff usually unnoticed in a typical day… background music on their favorite tv show, commercial music for advertising, that sort of thing. I wrote the music for the launch of the original electric car, the EV-1 by GM, way back in 1999. Was also the composer for a whole bunch of Mad Men promos. I hope that this year means people know me more as the producer and mixer for two of Milwaukee’s most talented sons, Sam Ahmed (as WebsterX) and Chris Porterfield (as Field Report).

How is Milwaukee special to you? Number one, I moved back from LA and to have my kids be raised here. So, this is home. And two, the fact that Milwaukee Wisconsin has a special place in the world of music in all kinds of ways: Les Paul and the invention of both the electric guitar and multitrack recording in my hometown of Waukesha, Summerfest being the world’s largest music festival, the world’s largest sheet music publisher is Wauwatosa’s Hal Leonard, I believe the largest microphone collection is right here in the city, the roots of recorded jazz and blues music can be traced to Paramount Records in Grafton, 88nine is the envy of the non-commercial radio world, and in the Pabst/Riverside crew we have truly passionate and talented people setting trends in the way artists are treated and shows are curated.

What may people not know about you? I originally wanted to be an architect but quickly learned about the level of math required.

What drives your creativity? I’m not sure. Ideas are never in short supply. Execution, however…

What are you going to talk to us about this month? I’ve been told the theme is “Moments,” and I think that word is pretty fascinating in the context of creativity and the human experience. My goal is to inspire and challenge without being too self-indulgent. 

Ticket registration for “Moments” opens here Monday, February 20th at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!

On Friday, January 27th, we’re returning with Brian Jacobson, a writer, photographer, and researcher whose career has included work for WTMJ, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, MKE, The Onion, Journal Times, Third Coast Digest, Urban Milwaukee and OnMilwaukee. He is also a founding member of the Coalition of Photographic Arts (COPA), and has shown his work in numerous galleries and museums. Brian spends his off time digging up clues about Milwaukee’s history, architecture and art. Below we caught up with Brian to get to know him better.

What do you typically eat for breakfast? If I’m lucky, I get scrambled eggs–done the chef way with lots of butter, salt and mixing while removing from heat occasionally. Most days, I’m rushed and I get coffee only.

What do people know you for? People may know me best from my journalism work, in which I was also the event photographer. I’ve also had a healthy artist presence with my images and often get requests for Milwaukee images.

How is Milwaukee special to you? Milwaukee is my second backyard, community, workplace, playground and research subject. I know most streets back and forth, and I have my fair share of secret hiding places to relax.

What may people not know about you? I recently took up learning Norwegian and found the accent, tones and words coming to me preternaturally (n.b. Brian’s family originally hails from Norway).

What drives your creativity? I need inspiration to create, which is easy for a photographer as every visual looks to be your next image. But to actually make something and put it out there–I need to not be distracted by the rest of life worries. I know that I have more to offer, but admittedly right now I’ve been winter fallow.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? I’m going to be addressing why we look to past masters for inspiration in our own work–and when something is missing or you discover a clue that compels you to solve a mystery, that it will take you down a plentiful road. The two stories I will be focusing on were missing art pieces from Milwaukee’s history that have fascinating backstories. Learning about the artwork’s physical life, context and the people involved can be just as interesting as the art itself. I understand Milwaukee’s subtextual culture much better from my research.

Ticket registration for “Mystery” opens here Monday, January 23rd at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!

On Friday, November 18th, we’re returning with Xavier Ruffin, a filmmaker, title designer, illustrator and motion graphics designer who is currently President at Dopamine Productions. He is best known for writing and directing the 6-part web series Mad Black Men. Xavier also works heavily in the music industry and has animation, vfx, title design, and director credits on music videos with Klassic, Prophetic, Riff Raff, T.I., Donald Glover, OG Maco, Mac Miller, Gerald Walker, and others. Below we caught up with Xavier to get to know him better. 


What do you typically eat for breakfast? I like oatmeal with brown sugar, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, bananas or fried plantains for breakfast on most days.

What do people know you for? Most people know me for motion graphics and directing music videos.

How is Milwaukee special to you? Milwaukee is my home. It’s where I was raised. It’s like a second mother to me which keeps it close to my heart.

What may people not know about you? It may not be well known that I make music as a hobby and I’m interested in quantum physics.

What drives your creativity? My need to make things drives my creativity. It’s an addiction for me. I’ve always made things and I don’t know what life is like without making more things.

What are you going to talk to us about this month? This month I’ll be speaking about the ethereal idea of fantasy and how we can pull it into our reality.

Ticket registration for “Fantasy” opens here Monday, November 14th at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!

On Friday, September 30th, we’re returning with Kara Mulrooney, an independent filmmaker, commercial producer and production designer. From her experience behind the lens, in front of it and in setting up the scene, she knows about the magic of film from all angles. She also co-founded, alongside filmmaker Susan Kerns, Gal Friday Films and FILM FURIES, both meant to increase and support the number of women working “above the line” in Film. Below we caught up with Kara to get to know her better. 


Photo by Tate Bunker

1. What do you typically eat for breakfast? Within ten minutes of waking I eat a bowl of Kashi cereal, followed by an hour or two of coffee and water, then an omelet with spinach, tomatoes, and onions, topped with sharp cheddar cheese and veggie bacon on the side. 

2. What do people know you for? You may remember me from such films as “An Evening at Angelo’s” or “jazzy@32 (a true story)” or other of my short, high-spirited docs. But I also love doing on-camera work and recently had the opportunity to play a title role in an independent paranormal film, working title “Depth of Field.” I love my day job as a commercial producer where I get to work with a variety of Milwaukee’s creative pro’s, and I moonlight as an instructor in UW-Milwaukee’s Film Dept. – the class I teach is called “Design for Film: Speaking with Things and Stuff.” And I’m a proud member and co-founder of the FILM FURIES, a local gang of gals who make films and/or work behind camera in the film industry. 

3. How is Milwaukee special to you? The robust and generous artistic and independent filmmaking communities are truly special. Also, the vegetarian food, Lake Michigan, and the high number of haltingly unique spaces and micro-cultures (like Angelo’s Piano Lounge.) 

4. What may people not know about you? I love roller skating, and I’m pregnant – two unfortunately incompatible things. 

5. What drives your creativity? Giddiness. Unbridled excitement. If I see something or someone inspiring or get a funny idea in the shower, I can feel the electricity in my brain partying – it can be quite a high. The trick, of course, is pursuing that moment, keeping some piece of that initial sparkle with you as you slug through every phase of making. I find the act of editing to be especially difficult, because of the infinite number of combinations but also all the sitting, so occasionally reminding myself of those first magical moments is important. 

6. What are you going to talk to us about this month? (Cues The Final Countdown): Magic! Film sets are frequently referred to as being “where the magic happens,” so we’ll look at how magic is conjured and concocted in film but also art in general. There won’t be doves or bunnies, but there may be spells and a couple of other surprises…

Ticket registration for “Magic” opens here Monday, September 26th at 11AM CST. Grab a ticket as fast as you can they are free but limited!