Vedale Hill, a local artist, is among the winners of Milwaukee Magazine’s 2022 Unity Awards | WUWM 89.7 FM
This month, Milwaukee Magazine features the winners of their 2022 Unity Awards, spotlighting the people and organizations that make Milwaukee a better place.
One of the featured people is Milwaukee-based artist Vedale Hill. You may have seen his Black Lives Matter mural at the intersection of West Locust Street and North Martin Luther King Junior Drive. He also worked with students and SHARP Literacy to create the “Helping Hands” mural at North Martin Luther King Junior Drive and West Garfield Avenue.
In addition to community art, Hill focuses on improving Milwaukee’s Bronzeville neighborhood. He and his brother founded Jazale’s Art Studio, a community-based non-profit art education studio for young people. He also co-founded HomeWorks Bronzeville, a cultural development project that uses the arts to sustainably renew the community of artists and current residents.
Growing up, Hill saw art as a way to support herself financially. “I consider my early days the best of the worst. We didn’t have the best systems in the schools,” Hill says. “My journey began out of necessity. I was fine with [art]. I love doing it, but I took it seriously once I started to realize it could help me financially.”
Hill names his handyman Uncle Richard and his college drawing and painting teacher for influencing his work. But the main motivation for taking her job seriously comes from her daughter, Jazale.
Hill beams, “My daughter, her birth, really pushed me to take it seriously when it came to career pathing. When it came to how I wanted to be seen, how I wanted to be absorbed into this world, it would be through her eyes. I didn’t want to make huge mistakes, but I wanted to be honest.
While Hill has an art background from MIAD, Hill notes that he has a “street education” which helps him in his work with the community. For him, growing up in Bronzeville and understanding the turmoil of his community is important to understand the problems encountered on a daily basis.
He recognizes that many young men like him in the community are struggling. Hill says they need to know that the options to become an artist are tangible and possible. “I stick to my community first because we are often seen as last in resource laws. We are in food deserts. Education has deteriorated over the years. And that’s where I’m leading. So that’s where I’m going to go,” Hill says.
It was because of this need for space that he and his brother decided to found Jazale’s in 2012. Hill was already doing commissions and contracts for the Boys & Girls Club and the YMCA. While working in these organizations, he found that the money invested in the programs was not delivering quality lessons. Often the programs were meant to fill an important need in arts education. Instead, he often saw nearly entire school population budgets earmarked for a few classrooms.
Vedale Hill and his brother knew they could interact more effectively with the community. “We started writing our own grants, creating our own programs, reaching out to these families on our own,” says Hill. The two made it a priority never to take funds that would mean quantity over quality.
Working in the community he grew up in was amazing and challenging, Hill says. For example, seeing his community ignore problems or being ignored, he has seen young people die or go to jail. Moreover, he has seen countless spaces crumble after he and his team have taken over – not only have they crumbled physically, but energy and momentum as well.
Hill adds that it was devastating for children who fall in love with the program to see it suddenly out of reach of transportation. “We had no say in how long [students] could be [at work spaces] if we owned nothing,” Hill says.
Because of this need, Hill helped fund HomeWorks Bronzeville. “So we started to look at home ownership and workspace as a way to create a platform for young artists to not only thrive as individuals, but also to create a community. long-term,” says Hill.
Hill says he wouldn’t change anything about what got him to where he is now, and although he’s never seen himself teaching in a classroom, he loves the work he does. “Hopefully in 100, 200, 500 years they read about Vedale Hill. And they use not only my art but also my life as something that should be viewed in a positive light. I absolutely didn’t see that I was going to be who I am, but I love it,” Hill says.