Milwaukee Hope: A hometown meme series designed to inspire optimism during the coronavirus crisis
The Milwaukee Hope project combines illustrated Knezelisms with location photography of landmarks around the city, to produce a series of creative memes for the local community. While Milwaukee has had reason to be PROUD and STRONG during other recent hardships, the coronavirus situation requires something more – HOPE.
With all of Wisconsin under a “Safer at Home” order that began on March 25, and Milwaukee residents processing many different life issues at different speeds – as a result of COVID-19, Sherrill Knezel and Lee Matz knew that people would need to overcome their anxiety and find things to help pull them through the crisis.
“I am a teacher, graphic recorder, artist, spouse, mother, sister, daughter, and friend. Despite all of the lived experience and skills I have gained from these roles, I was not prepared for the feeling of groundlessness that has caught me off guard during this time of a growing pandemic,” said Knezel. “How could I help? What could I contribute in a small way to bring comfort, create connection, and build community?”
Knezel and Matz have both earned awards in visual journalism for their work with the Milwaukee Independent. The stylish illustrations by Knezel, known as Knezelisms, have positive and inspiring messages, and the immersive photojournalism by Matz expresses emotional stories in images. Having reported on issues of gun violence in Milwaukee, with the vigils to help victims and neighbors cope with the trauma, both journalists were looking for a simple way to offer messages of healing that could be easily shared across social media.
“When Lee told me he had an idea about a way we could collaborate, my interest was piqued. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter continue to be spaces where people look for support during this troubling time, so he thought we could produce an inspirational campaign to help encourage others in our hometown,” said Knezel.
From educators to healthcare workers and corporate workers, from hospitality staff and grocery store clerks to marginalized citizens, all of America is being forced to change our individual perspective to one of our shared wellbeing. Individual actions or inactions can benefit or harm others more than ever before. During these times of isolation and physical distancing, we can decide instead to creatively bring together our unique skills.
“Lee had all these images of places around town that normally would be bustling with people, but are now deserted because of social distancing and the Governor’s directive to stay home,” added Knezel. “Since he couldn’t photograph people and events, Lee’s creative vision was this: what if we take photos of environmental spaces in Milwaukee and combine them with illustrated people in place of those who are missing? What if we combine our unique skills; a photographer’s keen sense of compositional storytelling and an illustrator’s synthesis of the essence of quotes through images to create something new and optimistic?”
This pandemic has forced residents of Milwaukee and all over to acknowledge a vulnerability and an interconnectedness as humans. The uncertainty has pushed many outside of our comfort zones. This creative collaboration underscores realization that nothing new can be created without the willingness to be vulnerable and affirm how much we need each other.
“Instead of sitting at home and dwelling on the loneliness, it’s more healthy to be creative and courageous,” said Pardeep Kaleka, executive director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee and a Milwaukee Independent columnist. “We should be exploring possibility and potential. I have no doubt that we are living through both a physical and spiritual ailment, and now is the time that humanity will sow the seeds of hope. The hope that future generations will be better than the generation before.”
Love can be as simple as looking fear in the eye and saying, hi. You, too, are welcome here.
– Marta Catanicic
When all has gone quiet, surrender to the waiting and stay open to what wants to emerge.
– S. Knezel
No relationship is all sunshine, but two people can share one umbrella and survive the storm together.
I feel no need to moderate my optimism. The world has plenty of negativity to balance me out.
– Brett Culp
When we change the story we tell ourselves about others, we create openings for connection and belonging.
– S. Knezel
In every community, there is work to be done. In every nation, there are wounds to heal. In every heart, there is the power to do it.
– Marianne Williamson
How am I applying the deep resources of my heart and spirit in ways that connect and heal?
– S. Knezel
Watch carefully the magic that happens when you give a person just enough comfort to be themselves.
– Atticus Finch
I will inhabit my day with love and compassion. I will decorate my being with kindness and joy.
– Xan Oku
There is strength in the differences between us and I know there is comfort where we overlap.
– Ani DiFranco
Gifts are the consequence of authenticity; when we are being our true natures, the gifts can emerge.
– Francis Weller
Your task is not to seek for love, but merely seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.
© Milwaukee Hope: A Creative Meme Series
illustrations by Sherrill Knezel • photography by Lee Matz