Ms. Chikasa Anana recounts her memories of the Municipal Building, particularly in regards to art exhibitions featuring artists of color that she helped organize through her work with the City of Madison's Minorities Affairs Commission.
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Interviewer: This is Mary Gandolfo and we are--I’m speaking with Milele Chikasa Anana, and we are at the grand opening of the Metro--uh, the Madison Municipal Building, and, um, we’re talking--it’s December 8th, 2018--and we’re talking about memories or a story about this building. And, would you say your name, please?
Interviewer: Okay. Can you come closer? Because I’m afraid that--I don’t know if the [SCRAPING SOUND AND INDISTINCT TALKING]. Okay. And what did you want to tell us about?
Narrator: Well, one of my earliest memories is I walked through here and I thought well, this would be wonderful to have an art exhibit or some kind of exhibit in here. We need something to fill it out. So I was at the Madison Public Library one day and they had stored some uh display cases. Oh, they were about, maybe, two by six feet. And they were on kind of a stilt, and then the display cases were on top. And I thought, well that would be perfect if we could get these to the Municipal Building so we could have--at least start an exhibit there.
So I asked somebody in the library if the janitor would bring them from the library over here, ’cuz it was City property. And they said yes, and so they brought ’em over. And those display cases stayed maybe 40 years.
Narrator: And, and that was the beginning of our art exhibit.
Narrator: So we had many, many art exhibits and different kinds of exhibits…
Narrator: …from then on. Um [CRACKLING].
Interviewer: What a great way to beautify the building.
Narrator: Yeah, it was.
Interviewer: Did you work in this building?
Narrator: No, I never worked here. And so, we did African-American history month and did an exhibit there. Then we did--we had meetings here, and this is some of the photos from our meetings here. Oh, I think this was the meeting where Umoja did an art exhibit.
Narrator: It was part of the last art exhibit here in the building.
Narrator: And that was a picture. She’s dead now.
Interviewer: Very interesting, and it looks like you have a stack of about eight to ten inches high of photos?
Narrator: Yeah. Different exhibits here.
Narrator: Um, these were artists. He exhibited here in the Municipal Building.
Interviewer: What was your connection with the artists or the displays? Did you bring them together, or...?
Narrator: Sort of. I was, um--the last exhibit that was here was the Umoja exhibit.
Narrator: Umoja Magazine.
Narrator: And we showed the artwork on the cover of Umoja and then the original artwork.
Interviewer: Ah! Nice.
Narrator: And these are some of the pictures from that time. We also did an exhibit of, of black art. And this is black couples getting married. That’s an artist. He’s an artist who sculpted. Um, this is a poster that he made for the Equal Opportunities Commission. And I think it’s still hanging at the Commission.
Interviewer: Mm. In ’98?
Narrator: I think it’s still hanging up there in the office.
Interviewer: Were you able to get upstairs and walk around the building?
Narrator: No. He was a speaker. These people were part of the Minority Affairs Committee. He was...
Interviewer: For the City?
Narrator: The Minority Affairs Committee was a committee from the Affirmative Action Office.
Narrator: And he was an artist that displayed his sculpture there. And those were the cases...
Interviewer: Oh! I see.
Narrator: ...and he was able to display them here.
Interviewer: Oh! Nice! That must have made it so nice for the people who work here, too.
Narrator: Yes, it was.
Interviewer: You know, and people who came here for business...
Interviewer: ...to have artwork. So when do--would you say that you started, um, getting the displays put up?
Narrator: Probably in the 19…these don’t have dates on them. Probably in the—it was--as far as I can remember, it was the 90s.
Interviewer: In the 90s?
Narrator: In the 90s. I don’t know whether it was ’90, ’91, ’92, or ’93, or ’94.
Narrator: But it was somewhere...
Interviewer: In the early 90s.
Interviewer: That is nice. That is very nice. I know that, uh, in the School District Building, there are display cases that are built in, and they always have art displayed from the schools.
Narrator: Mm-hm. And here is, uh, Mayor Soglin and some of the committee. I can’t read the date, two oh oh eight, I think. And this was a program.
Narrator: They were honoring me, and I spoke there.
Narrator: Mm-hm. This picture used to hang in the Municipal Building. That’s a picture of me.
Interviewer: Oh! Let’s see it.
Interviewer: Oh, yeah.
Narrator: And these were some of my friends and family.
Interviewer: Well, now, um, what kind of work did you do in the Municipal Building?
Narrator: I didn’t work here.
Narrator: I never worked here.
Narrator: I worked in Madison Metro.
Interviewer: Oh! Okay.
Narrator: And these are some of the people who put on the program, I’m sure.
Interviewer: Mm-hm. Very interesting.
Narrator: Mm. So, while we exhibited, uh, during Black History Month, from about January to June...
Narrator: ...we would have that exhibit. Then the Fine Arts Committee decided that everybody should exhibit.
Narrator: It should be open to the public. So they opened it to the public.
Interviewer: For other artists to be able to exhibit?
Narrator: For other artists, mm-hm.
Narrator: For the white artists to exhibit.
Interviewer: As well, yeah.
Narrator: And that worked out.
Interviewer: Well, who decided what got put into the displays?
Narrator: The Minority Affairs Committee.
Interviewer: Oh. And you were on that committee.
Narrator: Right. Mm-hm.
Interviewer: Good, good. So, that’s how -- that’s where you have your connection.
Narrator: And these were musicians who played—where is the City employees’ credit union, where was that?
Interviewer: Ah...my husband banks there, but I have never been there.
Interviewer: I don’t know.
Narrator: Mm. He was an artist who put up a display there. It was a big display there.
Narrator: This was...
Interviewer: At the credit union?
Narrator: No, at the—at one of the art exhibits.
Interviewer: Oh, okay.
Narrator: And these were some of the [PAUSE] displays.
Interviewer: Ooh! That looks very interesting [PAUSE]. That’s beautiful.
Narrator: These are some of the same...
Interviewer: Never seen anything like that.
Interviewer: No. I can’t imagine even being able to move it...
Interviewer: ...to bring it into the building.
Narrator: Mm-hm, yep.
Interviewer: That’s so tall.
Narrator: I just met her on the sidewalk. She’s a hundred years old.
Interviewer: Oh! My gosh. Have you lived in Madison all your life?
Interviewer: When did you come? What brought you here?
Narrator: Oh, that’s a long story.
Narrator: But she was honored, um, with—when Dave, Mayor Dave was mayor.
Interviewer: Oh. Yeah.
Interviewer: Oh. Cieslewicz.
Narrator: Yeah. Just met her on the sidewalk.
Interviewer: Oh, wow. Well, that’s part of what the Living History Project is about, is trying to find these gems living in our community and to get an interview with them and recorded so that it can be part of our collection, and someday people will be able to, to listen online and hear the stories from [PAPERS SHUFFLING] the person’s own mouth, which is really exciting.
Narrator: These are some of the people who were the early members of the Minority Affairs Committee. Those are all alike. But I think if I...
Narrator: There’s some interesting programs that we had. Every year, we would have...
Narrator: ...almost every single year from maybe 1995, 1998, up until the building got restored…
Narrator: …we would take this opportunity to have an art exhibit.
Narrator: Oh, these were some, some baskets that we displayed in the cases that we got from the Madison...
Narrator: ...Madison Public Library.
Narrator: This was a cloth hanging. We had a display once of African cloths.
Interviewer: Is that a kente cloth?
Narrator: Well, yeah, this is a kente cloth. And we had every wall lined with, with kente cloth.
Interviewer: Look at that.
Interviewer: Look at that, yeah.
Narrator: This was another one. That’s another one. And then we had, um, baskets and other kinds of things.
Interviewer: You know, Milele, you have such a beautiful collection of photos here, and one of the things that they are collecting as part of this project is--they’re calling it living history ephemera--and they can make copies of some of your photos...
Interviewer: ...if you would be interested. Is that why you brought them?
Narrator: Well, I just brought ’em to talk to you.
Interviewer: Oh, wow.
Narrator: I read it in the paper.
Interviewer: Oh! Very nice.
Interviewer: Oh. Good. [INDISTINCT] I didn’t see in the paper that we were going to be here [LAUGHTER].
Interviewer: Yeah. I…
Narrator: It was a big [COUGHING], it was a big article.
Interviewer: In The Wisconsin Journal?
Interviewer: Yeah. There’s another, in the next room over, is where they are collecting--they’re getting pictures of artifacts, photos.
Interviewer: Oh. So they get to get some--they could take copies of that.
Interviewer: They can digitize it, right.
Interviewer: Oh! Wow. I’m glad you know that.
Interviewer: Because this could be useful.
Interviewer: Because here, in this room, we’re doing the oral history.
Interviewer: But, unfortunately, anyone who is listening to the story doesn’t get to see the pictures.
Interviewer: Right, right.
Narrator: Now, this is, um, this is how the Municipal Building used to look.
Interviewer: Yeah, it was a busy place.
Narrator: And this is [PAUSE] I don’t know what this is. Oh! We had a display case once that celebrated Kwanzaa. And we had--February is Black History Month, and we had African-American dolls that displayed there.
Narrator: Then we had books of Black Americans.
Interviewer: Because I haven’t seen many African-American dolls.
Interviewer: I mean, I’ve heard of ’em, but...
Interviewer: And those look handmade.
Narrator: Yeah. They’re all handmade.
Narrator: And then we have Kwanzaa.
Interviewer: Well, would you be willing to share your pictures with the people at the other station?
Interviewer: Excellent. Well, thank you very much. I appreciate your coming in with your stories, and, uh, the librarians here will be able to help you.
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