Milwaukee Native Transforms Childhood Home Into Artists and Community Hub Called The CR​​8TV House

Breathing Life Into the Childhood Home

Symphony Swan-Zawadi grew up on the corner of Hopkins and Courtland on Milwaukee’s Northside. As she grew older, she went through school, found her passions, started a family, and eventually had to face the passing of her parents. 

She returned to her childhood home after her father passed and found it in an unrecognizable state; Swan-Zawadi believes these were the sad and distressed feelings her father was left with. Faced with the decision of what to do with the house, Swan-Zawadi began cleaning it and discovering items that made her reflect on the strained relationship she had with her father during points in her life. 

“I came across a bunch of what I now call artifacts, and these were artifacts that reminded me because these memories were really buried deep, of how much my dad really loved us,” said Swan-Zawadi. 

Through these reminders, Swan-Zawadi recalled her father’s influence on her creative development and growth as an artist. 

“I had no interest in being a landlord but I also had a lot of interest in not selling the house, so I was like what do I do?” said Swan-Zawadi, “It came to me. I was like this is where I learned how to be an artist, this is [where] my dad and my mom really made this space safe for us to just be children and imagine and play and so I wanted to give that back for other artists.”

Instead of selling the house, Swan-Zawadi decided to transform the house into a hub for creatives and artists, calling it The CR8TV House.

It Came From A Dream

Swan-Zawadi said she was visited by her dad in her dreams which kept her from selling the house. 

The space is currently undergoing renovations but once finished it will host artists and community members to come together in a space for art, storytelling, and addressing societal issues creatively. 

“My intent is to create a space for us Black folk, Black and Brown folk in the city, to go from our oral histories to putting it down on something,” said Swan-Zawadi. “Whether it’s recorded or taped, documented so that we can begin to tell ourselves a new story about ourselves.” 

Swan-Zawadi plans to preserve much of the original woodwork throughout the two-story house done by her father, a carpenter. The bottom floor will include artists’ studios and exhibition space, while the upstairs is reserved for a community archive. The archive will help preserve Black and Brown family life in Milwaukee and foster a deeper connection with the community’s cultural heritage and collective story.

Symphony Sawn-Zawadi inside her childhood home, soon-to-be The CR8TV House. (Picture by Maria Peralta-Arellano/Carvd N Stone)
Symphony Sawn-Zawadi inside her childhood home, soon-to-be The CR8TV House. (Picture by Maria Peralta-Arellano/Carvd N Stone)

The CR8TV House will also feature the Sankofa Residency, a transformative program designed to support and empower Black and Brown artists through artistic growth and community engagement. The archive will serve as a source of inspiration for these artists. 

“I’m hoping we can continue to create space for the community to tell new stories,” said Swan-Zawadi. “So the house is not meant to be a museum, it’s meant to be a gathering point for artists to learn how to engage with their practice and community in a space that feels safe.”

The CR8TV House is aiming to open in early Fall to the public and welcome its first artist-in-residence. 

The Community Artist

Swan-Zawadi herself is an interdisciplinary artist and has a background in education. She holds the title of “Milwaukeean of the Year” awarded by Shepard Express and has been an active community advocate for as long as she can remember. 

She is also co-founder of another cooperative, BlankSpace MKE, a grassroots organization that blends art and community activism. 

The organization has reached national recognition as Swan-Zawadi and her team were invited to Washington D.C. at the National Guild for Community Arts Education 2024 conference to share the story of The CR8TV House. 

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