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Riverwest Poised to Soar?

by Mark Lawson

Until recently, it has been unusual for the city of Milwaukee to receive national attention regarding its art scene. It is even more unusual for the neighborhood of Riverwest to receive such attention. In the current issue of Art in America, several art venues and artists from Milwaukee, including some from Riverwest, received such attention in a lengthy, well-illustrated article. In a broadly focused article entitled “Poised to Soar?” writer Susan Snodgrass depicts a Milwaukee art scene characterized by energy, diversity, and depth. Riverwest Video and Film, also known as Pumpkin World, and the Riverwest Art Works, home of the Riverwest Artists Association, were the two neighborhood art venues mentioned in the article. Pumpkin World, on East Locust Street, provides valuable resources for film and video makers and sells works created by area filmmakers. The Riverwest Art Works is located on Holton Street just South of Center and was touted in the article as being one of the leading non-profit art venues in Milwaukee. Among the Riverwest residents mentioned in the article were Stephanie Barber, Paul Dreuke, and Nicholas Frank. So what does this notoriety mean for these venues, for the artists, or for the city? The recent Santiago Calatrava wing to the Milwaukee Art Museum has attracted world attention to Milwaukee. Although we’ve had many talented artists, designers, filmmakers, etc., working here for years, this appears to be one of those moments when a diversity of seemingly unrelated activities has reached a level of energy that may just propel us into national provenance in the realm of art. In part this is a result of an emerging world culture where old centers, such as New York, become less vital as generators of new ideas and directions. What this movement will mean to individual artists working in our city has yet to be seen. Opportunities, exposure, personal growth would be results to hope for. Could this affect the viability of art in our neighborhood? What is going on in the arts in Riverwest that seems to be attracting world attention? What are the challenges that artists and art groups face while trying to produce and present their creative work? How does this relate to the rest of the neighborhood? In future columns I hope to examine some of these issues and highlight some of the energy and talent we have here in our own little corner of the globe. Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002