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The Local Art Scene

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, Milwaukee and Riverwest receive just such attention. In a broadly focused article entitled “Poised to Soar?,” Art in America staff writer Susan Snodgrass depicts a Milwaukee art scene characterized by energy, diversity and depth. Several Riverwest art venues and residents were mentioned in the lengthy, well illustrated articles. The Riverwest Video and Film, also known as Pumpkin World, and the Riverwest Art Works (RAW), home of the Riverwest Artists Association (RAA), were the two neighborhood art venues mentioned in the article. Pumpkin World is located on East Locust Street. It provides valuable resources for film and video makers as well as selling actual works created by area filmmakers. The Riverwest Art Works is located on Holton Street just south of Center. It 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 attached 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 change the economics of art in our neighborhood? In upcoming columns I will look into just this issue.
by Mark Lawson