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Artwalk

by Mark Lawson

On October 5 and 6, the Riverwest Artists Association (RAA) will host its annual signature event, Artwalk. The long history of this event has the usual ups and downs that often mark the efforts of organizations staffed solely by volunteers. I have been involved with RAA since the early 1990s, and have seen many folks come and go from the artist group. They all left behind a bit of their own characters as well as the often-ephemeral results that came from their efforts. ArtwalkSome of the most far-reaching and recognizable results from the hard work that various members of RAA have done throughout the years came from the early efforts in organizing Artwalk. In 1979, Riverwest residents Jill Sebastian and Ron Bitticks began to organize the artists in the Riverwest neighborhood. Their approach often consisted of simply knocking on the doors of buildings that appeared to house art studios. The new group began to discuss how to showcase the artists living in the neighborhood. They also wanted, at the same time, to promote Riverwest as a neighborhood with many positive features, including being home to many artists. Ron and Jill and the other artists approached the Milwaukee Art Museum with the concept of promoting the artists and the neighborhood through a walking studio/gallery tour. The Friends of Art, the precursor to the Contemporary Art Society and other MAM friends groups, was open to the idea. Two of their members, Joanne Johnson and David Uhlein, were particularly supportive. “We were interested in highlighting what was invisible to everyone else,” recalls Jill Sebastian. “From the very beginning, Artwalk was presented as a neighborhood-building event. This was one of the points that the Friends of Art found appealing.” The Milwaukee Art Museum group agreed to sponsor the first two Artwalks, in 1979 and 1981. They provided volunteers from their group to help staff the event, as well as funding and assistance with publicity. They considered their initial support as seed money to get the event off the ground. Over the years, Artwalk has proved highly successful in contributing to the neighborhood identity and image of Riverwest as a place where artists live and work. Want to know more? See the Artwalk FAQ Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 8 – September 2002
by Mark Lawson