Share YOUR story. Shape OUR city. 

How did the C21 Story Cart come about?

In 2022, C21 hosted a series of retreats that incorporated faculty, student, and community stakeholders in a conversation about the pressing issues of the time. The retreats focused on the place of the university in Milwaukee, the restructuring of the traditional academic conference, and the inclusion of multiple expert voices into conversations about topics both studied and lived. Mobility – honoring experience and expertise outside the space of the lecture hall or Zoom room, and meeting people where they are – anchored much of the discussion.   

The leadership team at C21 decided to build a Story Cart to meet Milwaukeeans where they live their stories. We engaged Glenn Williams (UWM Art & Design) to design and fabricate a mobile work of art with craftmanship that would convey the value and care with which we would approach people’s stories. With a small, internal UWM grant, the Story Cart was born.

In the 2022-2023 academic year, C21 hosted the Nourishing Trust symposia which focused on the relationship between trust and food. Inspired by Martice Scales’ comment “The problem is that people in Milwaukee have no idea what it is like to have to walk a mile with two 10-pound bags of groceries,” we decided to use the Story Cart to invite stories of the journeys people take to secure food. The Story Cart and the Story Cart team visited grocery stores, farmers markets, block parties, and food centers across Milwaukee County and encouraged people to share their stories. That summer, the Story Cart team visited more than 25 locations and collected over 175 interviews.  

The mobility of the Story Cart allowed the team to quickly set up a small recording studio where people could learn about our mission and share their food journeys. The incredible craftsmanship of the cart and the expert facilitation of our Story Fellows created a trusted, mobile, third space for gathering and sharing stories.

The stories gathered by the Story Cart have been included in several exhibitions including one created by C21 which is featured on both our Thinking C21 website and in our gallery space in Curtin Hall. We have worked with community partners such as LUNA ( Latinas Unidas en las Artes) and TRUE Skool to create artwork based on the collected interviews. This work has been highlighted in numerous news articles such as this one by WUWM’s Lake Effect.

Jessie interviewed Jamee at the Story Cart.

In 2024, the Story Cart will explore the themes of C21’s yearly symposia, issues related to Trust & The Vote. Our team of Story Fellows, along with an array of community partners such as the League of Women Voters, will collect stories through two interactive engagements – a playful sliding scale between Trust Vs Distrust, and the “Teach a Kid to Vote Challenge.”

Picture of story cart in front of a fountain

Frequently Asked Questions

 What is a “Mobile Story Cart”? 

C21’s Mobile Story Cart is designed as a site for exchange, collaboration, and learning through story. Each year the Story Cart will focus on a theme that is part of C21’s extensive programming (podcasts, roundtable discussions, online resources). The C21 team designs a survey that invites stories in response to that theme. C21 hires and trains students to accompany the Story Cart to a range of locations across Milwaukee. Stories might be shared through drawings, video, or audio recordings. 

What happens to the stories? 

People who share their stories can choose to use their names or not. With their permission, their stories/responses will be archived and made available for public education/use. 

What kinds of questions are asked? 

C21 focuses on “Story and Sensory” surveys that invite participants to reflect on the feelings, sounds, smells, and colors evoked with a given topic. The answers to these questions are often hard-to-reach data, and they are meant to inspire creative solutions in the face of hard topics like loneliness, hunger, and political polarization. 

In the spring/summer of 2024, the Story Cart will focus on issues of trust and the voting process

 What does a day with the “Mobile Story Cart” look like? 

C21 trains and supports individuals to travel with the cart to your location and set it up on-site. The cart comes with stools, laptop whiteboards and audio equipment, and information on additional resources about the topic. The Story Cart will be at a given site for 3-4 hours, inviting passers-by to participate. It is designed to be in both in- and outdoor locations. 

What is expected of the site partners? 

Site partners identify a “point person” to arrange the best location for the Story Cart and welcome the Story facilitators. Ideally, the representative also helps the facilitators find participants most important to the organization (and in some cases, help with translation work, if needed.) We aim to provide a thank-you gift in the form of a small honorarium to representatives (pending funding). 

If you’re interested in hosting the Mobile StoryCart at your organization or event, please fill out the form here.