By ANNA STONE
“You do know we live in Milwaukee, don’t you? Blue collar, tavern culture, socialist roots, unions were born here,” said Jessica Poor, Milwaukee artist, as we discussed ways to sustain artistic vigor in a town that does not harbor a strong reputation for supporting the arts. Because of this, many artists move away, but artists who call Milwaukee home have found support in combined efforts and communities of like-minded individuals.
There is a plethora of art collectives and communities in Milwaukee to explore: Foxglove Gallery, Guildess, Sparrow Collective, Fashion-Ninja and HoverCraft, just to name a few, and more are being formed every day. Poor just recently formed what she refers to as an “intentional community” after a falling out with her boyfriend of 25 years.
“I have a huge space, an old funeral home in Bay View built in 1895 and I needed renters. Members of our community agree on the same principles [and] values, and support one another artistically and emotionally. As of Nov. 1, we will have five artists living there.”
Sarah L. Miller, fine arts major at Mount Mary College, is currently interning with Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, a nonprofit organization that supports individual literary, performing and visual artists. “I only just discovered many of the business aspects of being an artist from the workshops held here. Working alongside other artists has offered me a better awareness of what goes into becoming a self-sustaining artist.”
Miller has the support of her classmates and instructors and came to MARN to extend her community past the confines of the campus. “I know that they might not always be there; people fall away, and hopefully this is where we will all come together again,” she said, referring to the MARN exhibit space where she volunteers.
Faythe Levine, Milwaukee-based artist, Sky High Gallery curator and creator of the annual shopping event in Milwaukee called Art vs.Craft, said, “My work, be it personal or gallery-related, is about community and connecting people. Getting the right people together and helping propel creative endeavors, whether they are monetary or just labors of love, it’s what I live for these days.”
According to Levine, knowing people is only half the battle. The other half is producing the work. Tools and space are expensive. Redline, Milwaukee’s only artist-in-residence program, is an option for at least 20 artists in the community.
Founded by local artists Lori Bauman and Steve Vande Zande, Redline houses nine emerging artists, five mentoring artists, 16 residents and several visiting artists annually. If accepted, studio space is $175 a month and includes various amenities.
Levine warns that “forming a collective of any sort can be the best thing or the most frustrating thing. Power in numbers is pretty right-on, but often people don’t end up pulling their weight. So if you find people you can work with, stick with them, collaborators that push you to do better in life are hard to come by.”
The more artists that stay, the more artistically rich Milwaukee will become. Maybe one day Milwaukee will not only be known for its “blue collar, tavern culture,” but also as a city where artists continue to thrive, even in the hardest of economic times.
Levine said, “Living in Milwaukee is a total blessing… I couldn’t be more thankful for stumbling upon it 10-plus years ago.”