In Milwaukee, Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff highlights arts grants, meets with Jewish leaders

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Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff meets with students at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center Jan. 24.
Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff meets with students at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center Jan. 24.

While Vice President Kamala Harris visited Milwaukee Monday to promote lead abatement, her husband Doug Emhoff spent time with youth arts program directors before meeting with leaders of the Milwaukee Jewish community.

Emhoff was highlighting federal COVID-19 relief grants that helped the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center stay open throughout the pandemic.

"These amazing kids were able to stay here during the height of the pandemic, which is so great for so many reasons," Emhoff said.

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The newly renovated arts center, at 325 W. Walnut St., is home to the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra and First Stage theater group, which received $395,000 and $1,02 million, respectively, in federal Shuttered Venue Operators Grants part of the American Rescue Plan.

Emhoff talked with the students about what the space meant to them.

Lucas LaBeau, a MYSO jazz pianist who also performed for Emhoff, said he saw many musicians skip lessons during the pandemic and he was grateful to continue participating in MYSO.

“MYSO kept me involved," he said. "And I think that really helped me kindle my joy for music."

Daisha Lafford said the building was a “second home” and “safe haven.” Others agreed.

“Throughout the pandemic, everything shut down… I couldn’t go to school,” MYSO student Zindzi Frederick said. “This was the one thing that stayed constant and I’m really grateful for that.”

MYSO and First Stage were two of 236 Wisconsin recipients of Shuttered Venue grants who received a total of $229 million as of Jan. 21, according to a White House spokesperson.

More: 'It's been quite a roller-coaster ride': Wisconsin venues see bumpy start to live music comeback but high hopes for 2022

The students also asked Emhoff, a former entertainment lawyer and now professor, for life advice. Emhoff said his children, named after jazz musicians Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane, were involved in theater for many years and now have careers in the arts. But he said a background in arts would serve the students well, regardless of their career path.

"One of the reasons I'm able to do this as second gentleman is because I have a background in the arts because it gives you confidence, it gives you the ability to listen more than you talk, and it gives you the ability to understand and feel and communicate," he said.

After speaking with the students, Emhoff was escorted to meet with leaders of the Milwaukee Jewish community. Media were not invited to attend that meeting. Emhoff said he expected they would speak about combatting antisemitism.

“There's a real epidemic of hate going on in our country, if not our world right now,” Emhoff said. “And antisemitism is a part of that.”

Contact Rory Linnane at Follow her on Twitter at @RoryLinnane.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: In Milwaukee, Doug Emhoff visits MYSO, First Stage, Jewish leaders

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