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Gallery Night: The History of Milwaukee’s Most Well-Attended Art Event

by Mark Lawson

One of the most successful reoccurring events in Milwaukee’s art scene is Gallery Night. This event was begun in 1987 by staff members of the Milwaukee Art Museum and members of the East Town Association. Originally it included only a few of the major galleries and museums around town, but now it covers more than 60 sites. Early in its existence, an organization was formed to help guide the event. Originally conceived of as the Gallery Night Association, then the Milwaukee Gallery and Museum Association, it eventually became the Milwaukee Art Dealers Association. In 1990 the Historic Third Ward Association became a partner in the production of Gallery Night. On October’s Gallery Night in 1990, there were still only 10 galleries participating. Attendance was already reported as very good, with nearly 800 visitors to some galleries. By July’s Gallery Night in 1995, Gallery Night had grown to 24 participants. The event was administered by the East Town Association with the Milwaukee Art Museum handling the production of the brochure. The administration of the event was assumed by the Historic Third Ward Association. They have done an outstanding job of providing efficient organization for Gallery Night in the years that followed. During this period the event expanded tremendously. The success of the event has paralleled the vibrancy and increased activity in Milwaukee’s visual art scene generally. In 2003 Gallery Night has grown to encompass 63 art sites with about triple the attendance of ten years ago. Attendance during April’s Gallery night at MIAD last year topped 2400 visitors. This event has truly arrived, but where will it go from here? The rapid increase in the number of participants has already outgrown the recently redesigned brochure. Questions about focus, both geographic and arts related, have surfaced. Over the next few Gallery Nights many of these issues will have to be resolved to allow the event to continue to grow in manner that is in step with Gallery Night’s central mission of promoting the visual arts in Milwaukee. Gallery Night a quarterly event. This month it happens 5-9 p.m. Friday, July 25, and daytime Saturday, July 26. There is a free, three-stop, 20-passenger bus that travels between the Milwaukee Art Museum, East Town, and the Third Ward. For more information, call 273-1173 or 271-1476. Gallery Night maps are generally available at participating galleries a couple weeks prior to the event. Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003
by Mark Lawson