For Emmy-winning filmmaker Brad Pruitt, it’s function over form. Although his past few projects have been documentaries – Bending Toward the Light about education and Mark My Words about spoken-word poets – Pruitt is returning to narrative for his upcoming film, Behind Closed Doors. Narrative just makes sense for this story, he says. The film follows five neighbors who live in the same apartment building in Milwaukee. It’s a film about connections and community, race and economics. The story had been developing in his mind for years.
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The Milwaukee County Transit System has been trapped in a budget-induced death spiral – increased fares and reduced service, leading to fewer riders and less revenue, leading to increased fares and reduced service. But it wasn’t always that way. Can an out-of-state, for-profit company resurrect the public system?
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The Milwaukee Art Museum’s “30 Americans” opened with a bang this past weekend. The collection of art by 31 contemporary African American artists is stunning, but the compilation of colorful suits scattered throughout the space provide the most compelling and curious perspective.
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Rounding the corner, she looks ahead to a group of skaters, trying to catch up. It seems promising, but as she squats deep into the turn, a skate catches. She trips and goes down. Hard. A skater tumbles over her, and yet another over her. Four women end up tangled on the track. One gets up and screams in frustration.
But the skater who tripped is still down, lying on the track, her dark hair covering her face. She cradles her left arm. The skidding of wheels against the rough cement ceases, and the skaters take a knee. This is nothing they haven’t seen before. A few seconds pass before she extends her elbow forward, realizes her arm isn’t broken and hops up.
“Who’s the asshole who fell?” she asks with a sarcastic bite, her head dropping in faux shame.
In this warehouse space – lovingly nicknamed “The Bruisery” but undeniably unglamorous – four 20-member roller derby teams, officials and coaches gather every Sunday for scrimmages. The track is outlined with hand-applied fluorescent orange duct tape and patched up as needed. Foam-covered walls, old posters and a cement floor referred to as the “cheese grater,” for its effect on wheels, also fill the space.
But the real games – or bouts, as they’re called – are played in a different type of place, one that’s worthy of a professional matchup – the U.S. Cellular Arena.
Before these bouts, 34-year-old Anna Krajcik lays out her gear: helmet, mouth guard, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads, her gold knee brace from a torn ACL and, finally, gold and red quad roller skates. She meticulously crimps her hair – even the pink-tinged ends – while listening to hardcore rock, lots of Ozzy Osbourne and Rob Zombie. The last thing Krajcik does is apply thick, red makeup around her eyes, “putting on my game face,” she says.
The arena’s lights dim as the skaters are introduced, and their images are projected onto the jumbotron above the track. When Krajcik emerges, she is Grace Killy, co-captain of her team. “Grace Killy is a larger-than-life persona,” Krajcik says, “and I put her on for games.”
Thousands have gathered for this March 24 event, courtesy of their $18 tickets, and the crowd roars. On the receiving end of those cheers: Milwaukee’s own Brewcity Bruisers.
The juxtaposition between the stage makeup and bright lights of the U.S. Cellular and the grit of the warehouse practice space represents the test of modern roller derby. Since the sport’s revival in Austin, Texas, in the 2000s, it has struggled with both a perception problem and a balance between athletics and entertainment. “There was a search for its identity,” Krajcik says. And that search is ongoing. Roller derby is pushing the definition of sport, slowly catching the eye of mainstream institutions, but it hasn’t completely cut ties with its theatrical past.
Therein lies the challenge: Can derby retain its DIY spirit and punk aesthetic while gaining acceptance from mainstream sporting culture?
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When Jeff and Linda Feist bought their West Milwaukee bungalow in 1990 for about $60,000, they expected to upgrade a few years later. Twenty-three years have gone by, and the house, which today sits in the shadow of Miller Park, is still home to the family of five. But they’re finally looking to change that.
Crunching through the frozen snow in January, the Feists approached a gray colonial on a corner lot in Franklin, just down the road from the Milwaukee County Sports Complex. The house is listed at $228,900 and would be an upgrade, both in square footage – from 1,200 to 1,500 – and bedrooms – from two to three. The house also has charm, a must for Jeff.
The Franklin colonial opens to cathedral ceilings and a stone-outfitted gas fireplace. But it doesn’t get Jeff’s approval. “Dated,” he says. “I’m more or less looking at what I’m going to change right away.” Unconcerned with the purely cosmetic – like the home’s nautical theme – this pragmatic couple wants room to entertain the friends of their three sons, ages 19, 15 and 10. They want to be close to their jobs (Pick ’n Save in Hales Corners, and Kopp’s at 76th and Layton in Greenfield), and they want to continue to send their kids to private school. The Feists are about living within their means, a lifestyle reality many were forced to face when the real estate bubble burst.
But there’s still a large variable for the Feists: their bungalow. “We have an idea what we’ll be able to sell it for,” Jeff says, but “so many homes in our area have sat and sat.” One such home was a 1,300-square-foot bungalow on South 54th Street. Listed for $129,000 in May 2012, it sold for just $88,000 in September after one price reduction and more than 130 days on the market.
Still, the Feists remain optimistic while on the hunt for their new home. The discriminating couple has been looking seriously for a few months, but this one in Franklin won’t be the winner. The Feists’ agent, First Weber’s Colette Petitt, assures them the market will be flooded with new properties come spring. A thaw, of sorts. “Because the market is looking up,” she says, “I’ve been really busy meeting with people who are getting their homes ready that have been waiting for the past couple of years.”
Since the housing market crash in 2008, recovery in the metro area has been slow, but real estate agents are hopeful 2013 might be the year it regains its footing.
Home sales were up in 2012 – 23.6 percent in the city of Milwaukee and 22.7 percent in the five-county metro area excluding the city – though prices continued to stagnate at lower levels. Milwaukee saw a 2 percent decrease in sale price, while the five-county area saw a modest 0.3 percent increase, meaning the average home sold for just $667 more in 2012 than in 2011.
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When Luke arrived in Milwaukee in 2007, he brought with him the promise of no more digging through purses and pockets for spare change. He brought the prospect of seamless credit card payments to replace antiquated parking meters. He may have oversold what he could offer the city.
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County Executive Chris Abele remembers the nighttime rain when the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava addition officially opened in 2001. He remembers the tents set up on O’Donnell Plaza. He remembers how “burnt out” many of the supporters were after the dot-com crash and the addition’s unprecedented $100 million price tag. (“I was on the board early on before the Calatrava,” Abele says, “back when it was a $27 million project.”)