There's a network of tunnels underneath Concordia University

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It's pretty genius when you think about it.

When Concordia University in Mequon was built, it included a web of interconnected underground tunnels. It was originally a convent, and at the time, Mequon was much more rural than it is now.

So rather than have the nuns walk outside during the winter, they could instead pass between buildings using the tunnel system.

Photo via OnMilwaukee/Bobby Tanzilo

And they appeared to have enjoyed the trek. OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo found some pictures of the nuns zipping through the tunnels on roller skates and riding on bikes, sporting big smiles on their faces.

We head underground this week on Urban Spelunking, plus visit the rest of the Concordia campus.

A few other highlights from this this week's podcast:

  • There's a specific reason the Jesus is wearing a blue robe in the stained glass image in the chapel
  • Each tile in the mosaics below was laid by hand
  • Students come to Concordia from Sri Lanka, South Korea and many more countries

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Ms. Lotus Fankh explores mental health in 'Lost in Home'

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Look inside Saint Kate, Milwaukee's first arts hotel

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It's a first of its kind in Milwaukee -- a hotel dedicated to the arts, and arts of all kinds.

This week on Urban Spelunking we visit the Saint Kate Hotel, a newly reimagined hotel in downtown Milwaukee. It just opened in the former Intercontinental space at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave.

Listen to our conversation and check out photos below.

The 221 room hotel prominently features artwork throughout -- inside the rooms, in the lobby, at its own dedicated art black box theater and in an on-site art gallery. There's even a guitarist on staff, says OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo, who wrote about the hotel ahead of its opening.

"Five of the property's rooms will be designed by Milwaukee-area artists and makers -- including Lon Michels, Reed Skocz, Rosemary Ollison and John Grant," writes Tanzilo. "And some of the revenue generated by those rooms will be shared with area arts nonprofits like 88Nine Radio Milwaukee, Artists Working in Education, Milwaukee Artists Resource Network and the Milwaukee Rep."

Saint Kate is open now.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Representing black and trans women, meet this year's PrideFest individual of the year

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Milwaukee PrideFest itself may have wrapped up, but that doesn't mean the celebration is over. Pride month continues through June -- here in Milwaukee and around the world.

One way Milwaukee Pride (the producing organization of the festival) uplifts the LGBTQ community beyond the fest is by recognizing leaders in the local community.

Meet this year's individual of the year, Elle Halo, a proud supporter of transgender women in Milwaukee.

Elle Halo, Individual of the Year

Elle Halo. Photo courtesy of her.

"I really was very shocked," said Elle, speaking about her honor at PrideFest.

But her award should be no surprise. She has dedicated her career to public health and prevention, specifically in the transgender community. She works at a health clinic serving trans patients, and works for Black AIDS Institute.

She also sits on the board of Diverse & Resilient, a LGBTQ organization in Milwaukee, plus she runs a support group for trans women called SHEBA, or Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity.

"I'm definitely very interested in the wellbeing of us, of black trans people and LGBT people," Elle said.

Photo of SHEBA, courtesy of Diverse & Resilient.

Elle says the fight for equality in the LGBTQ community is far from over, and it didn't end, magically, when the Supreme Court struck down the bans on same-sex marriage in 2015.

"[Marriage equality] is definitely not the sum of our fight," Elle said. "As a trans women myself and other trans women in Milwaukee face instability, safety concerns, domestic violence, theft. We face discrimination in work, in school, at home, on the streets."

Those disparities, Elle said, are why building community among trans people, and being visible to the rest of the world are so important.

That's pride.

Which is why it's frustrating to many LGBTQ people when TV and radio hosts -- or people from the internet -- question the purpose of Pride month. I asked her for her reaction to why there's no "straight pride."

There is no straight pride because that's stupid.

Her frank response prompted a laugh from me. She continued:

"That's number one. Number two is you have the rest of the year. The feeling that that particular host or whoever else feels when they are excluded from something, that is the feeling that people feel when they're LGBTQ every day. That is the feeling you feel when you're a person of color every day.

"And living in a world where you may not see the discrimination happening in front of you, does not mean that it doesn't happen," Elle says.

Here's the rest of this year's award winners.

Ally:  Karen Dettmer of the City of Milwaukee, who advocated for the Rainbow Crosswalks Initiative, overcame bureaucratic red tape and roadblocks, and ultimately implemented the city's first permanent, visible monument for LGBTQ people;

Organization:  Bi+ Pride Milwaukee, for restoring the long-silent "B" to the local LGBTQ community through online awareness campaigns, outreach events and social outings that support bisexual identity;

Valor:  Nat Werth of Sheboygan, whose high school silenced his valedictorian graduation speech for containing LGBTQ content;

Legacy:  Mark Mariucci, 25-year publisher of QUEST Magazine and former owner of ZA's Videobar in Green Bay, for his lifetime commitment to the Wisconsin LGBTQ community.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Meet the Milwaukee designer dressing Solange, Grimes, Kali Uchis and others

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Video by Lucas Seidel/Radio Milwaukee

Last year we met Milwaukee designer Elena Velez in New York for New York Fashion Week. The creative entrepreneur has done an impressive amount of work since then, with a new collection based on Milwaukee's industrial roots and high-profile artists wearing her pieces in magazines and her custom designs on tour.

Radio Milwaukee interviewed Velez to go behind-the-scenes on her process.

In the Community Story interview last year Velez told us, "The fashion industry is so quick to forget. You have to keep outdoing yourself and keep impressing people and keep doing bigger and better things or else become a has-been." It's clear Velez is fighting obscurity relentlessly. The last few months the artist has worked with or dressed Solange, Grimes, Kali Uchis and Brooke Candy. What people may not see is the rejection and "tiny heartbreaks" on the road to success.

Solange | photo by Marcus Cooper

In a post on Facebook, Velez shared screenshots of rejections before the now iconic image of Solange wearing her design, which was chosen after five attempts. "Being approached to loan to a project is ultimately a lottery when there are ten other designers contributing to the same shoot and there will only be four images in the final spread or one look chosen for the red carpet. Over the last six months I've loaned to projects for Rihanna, Ciara, Halsey, Ella Mae, Cardi B... Making it into the final styling is super lucky and in an Instagram culture where we can only claim that which we have an image of, it's important to keep realistic expectations." She adds, "I wanted to share that with my friends and creatives in my community as a reminder that the road to success is paved with lots of rejections and tiny heartbreaks but good things are around the corner if you keep at it and protect yourself from discouragement."

Velez was commissioned to design custom pieces for touring performers Ariana Grande and Kali Uchis. Uchis was seen in a custom corset set designed by Velez on her recent tour with Jorja Smith. Velez points out, "Ariana's tour will extend through the summer and although I designed and produced six different garments for her Sweetener World Tour, I haven't seen images yet -- another moment to highlight the importance of checking expectations and staying realistic! Once you get to that level of styling there are all sorts of politics, brand alignments and big money promotional contracts that these celebs have to consider. As a recent graduate sewing out of her bedroom on a machine she's had since the age of 13, it's virtually impossible to compete so I'm just appreciative of the consideration."  

Kali Uchis on tour styled by Corey Stokes in custom corset set by Elena Velez

Many of the designs created by Velez have an easily recognizable signature look, one she describes as "an aggressively delicate aesthetic signature." The newest collection "Vessel" is inspired by her upbringing in Milwaukee as the daughter of a ship captain. The materials used in the line include repurposed sails, boat covers, salvaged ship steel presented in a way that's equally soft and draped along with cold hard steel -- "aggressively delicate" is pretty apt.

..."the road to success is paved with lots of rejections and tiny heartbreaks but good things are around the corner if you keep at it and protect yourself from discouragement."

Elena Velez

Velez returns to the city with a homecoming runway show for Milwaukee Fashion Week this fall, which will include many local collaborators. "I really want it to be a By Us For Us moment to celebrate the fact that creativity can thrive in underrepresented creative communities like ours and that the world is starting to take notice."

Grimes styled by Jessica Worrell in Elena Velez | Photo by Charlotte Rutherford

While fashion design has taken the artist around the world, she still tags her posts "#MilwaukeeCreatives" and her native city is still essential to her brand. "It informs the work conceptually, collaboratively, and is the backbone of my design identity," she says. "My work incorporates an appreciation for the craftsmanship and the artisanal heritage of the rustbelt as epitomized by the metalsmith industry, a historically iconic trademark of Milwaukee. A lot of my peers and critics in the fashion industry are very curious about the creative message of designers from the American Midwest and I really believe that our perspective adds an interesting and needed component to the global fashion narrative."

You can find more about Elena Velez and her work at elenavelez.com.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Art abounds inside this gorgeous Milwaukee mansion

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How often do you get to walk inside a stunning Milwaukee mansion? Unless you own one or are looking to buy one -- or get the invite to a bougie dinner party -- it's probably pretty rare.

But on Milwaukee's East Side, a gorgeous Italianate mansion is open to the public. And almost every surface inside is covered in art.

This week on Urban Spelunking, we visit the David Barnett Gallery on Prospect Avenue.

Photo courtesy of David Barnett Gallery via OnMilwaukee.com

Pharmaceutical magnate Henry Button built the home in 1875 for $30,000, seven years after he "made the Sentinel's list of the 48 most prosperous men in the city," writes OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo. He lived there until his death.

Fast forward about a century, the home became vacant in 1985. That's when it was acquired by art dealer David Barnett, and the work began to create a gallery inside.

Now every wall and nook is adorned with art -- from paintings, to sculpture, to photography.

Take a look inside, and be sure to visit OnMilwaukee to read Bobby's complete story.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

'Together, we can put an end to discrimination' says Sheboygan valedictorian honored at PrideFest

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Speaking at the PrideFest opening ceremony -- surrounded by state and city leaders -- Sheboygan Lutheran High School valedictorian Nat Werth finally got to deliver a speech he earned.

Two weeks prior, he was not allowed to give a speech at his high school graduation for its LGBT-related content. School administrators took issue with him sharing his own coming out story, the difficulties he faced as a gay student at a Lutheran school and his interpretation of certain bible passages.

But he was greeted with a standing ovation Friday at PrideFest when he was presented with this year's Valor award.

"I would like to stress that I am in no way trying to get revenge on my high school. I want to use my voice to create change and to speak up for those who can't do it for themselves," he said in his acceptance speech.

Werth called for a national ban on conversion therapy, which remains legal in parts Wisconsin.

"No child should have to fear being disowned by their caretakers...no child should be taught at school they need to hate themselves to be loved," he said.

Immediately before taking the podium, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announced he would personally pay for Werth to attend the World Pride Festival in New York City and to march in the pride parade.

Now Werth says he is looking forward to spreading his message of acceptance to a national audience.

"My advice to anyone trapped by their circumstance, know that there's nothing wrong with you. Know that speaking up can cause change to take place."

Listen to his complete speech below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Wisconsin will fly the pride flag over its Capitol for the first time today

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The rainbow flag symbolizing LGBTQ pride will be flown over the Wisconsin state Capitol for the first time.

Gov. Tony Evers today issued an executive order to fly the flag for the rest of June in recognition of Pride Month. The flag will be raised at a 1:30 p.m. ceremony today outside the Capitol and will fly above the building's east wing, over the governor's office, Madison.com reports.

Wisconsin State Capitol | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

"Publicly displaying the Rainbow Pride Flag sends a clear and unequivocal message that Wisconsin is a welcoming and inclusive place where everyone can live without fear of persecution, judgement or discrimination," Evers' executive order read.

Evers also authorized state buildings and any jurisdiction of the state to fly the flag throughout the month.

The news will give attendees one more reason to celebrate at Milwaukee's PrideFest this weekend. The event runs through Sunday, July 9, at the Summerfest grounds.

88Nine's Nate Imig spoke with Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes at Pridefest Friday about the flag and the state of LGBTQ politics in Wisconsin. Listen to the interview below.

88Nine Radio Milwaukee

The Latinx artists known as L.U.N.A.

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

Puddler's Hall is deeply intertwined with the history of Bay View

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Identifying the oldest bars in Milwaukee is more difficult than it may seem, because the candidates change depending on the criteria. Do you go by the bar that's operated under the same name the longest, or by the oldest building that is currently a bar?

If you judge by the building, then Puddler's Hall, at 2461-63 S. St. Clair St. in Bay View, has a claim to being one of the city's oldest. The building has been around since 1871. Although its ownership has changed frequently since then, it's been a tavern since the early 1890s, and it has a rich history that runs parallel to the neighborhood's. To walk in even today is to be reminded of the saloons of long ago.

Puddler's Hall. Photo via Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee

The business has only been called Puddler's Hall since 2002, but the name pays homage to the building's origins as a union meeting hall for the puddlers, the iron workers at the Milwaukee Iron Company mill that once employed much of Bay View. They used to host political rallies there, as well as community meetings and arts event. And like a lot of buildings in the neighborhood, the hall was a hub for the Italian community.

In recent decades the bar has been called Potter's End, Sue's Bay View Bandwagon and Mardy's Party. Under current owner Casey Foltz, it serves pizzas and paninis and a variety of live music and a Monday comedy night.

Foltz gave OnMilwaukee's Bobby Tanzilo a tour of the building, including an attic filled with old relics and a basement with a sealed-off tunnel that may have been used to connect the bar to other businesses during Prohibition. There's no proof that the tunnel was used for rum-running, but it's easy enough to use your imagination.

Puddler's Hall. Photo via Bobby Tanzilo/OnMilwaukee

Listen to this week's podcast for more about how the building has changed over its long history, and be sure to read Bobby's complete story at OnMilwaukee.com, which includes photos of that eerie attic.

Like what you hear? Subscribe!

Get all 88Nine's podcasts delivered right to you weekly at RadioMilwaukee.org/Podcasts. We've got podcasts about music, food and and film, with fresh episodes dropping every week!

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