The Milwaukee Venue Project

by Jeremy Berg

Teenagers, perhaps more than any other social group, are always on the lookout for somewhere to go, something to do, somewhere to be. Here in Beer City, that’s not always easy to find. The members of the Milwaukee Venue Project (MVP) are of the opinion that a change is necessary. “What we’re dedicated to the most is making sure there’s all-ages events going on in the city,” says Jessica Hoffman. Allison Vallerga expands on the importance of constant activity, commenting, “I think it’s really important for a 15-year-old to say ‘I want to learn to play guitar,’ not ‘I’m going to break into someone’s house.'” Vallerga, who founded MVP along with Nate Dunst, Chuck Engel, and Andy Junk, speaks from personal experience. Like many involved in the Venue Project, she has arrived at this point through a love of music that has taken her from audience member to scenemaker to promoter. Many members also are or have been in bands. All see the need for a stable all-ages venue as more than just a place where you can see a show while under 21. “Basement shows, despite the best intentions, are one step removed from private parties,” says Dunst. While this is partly just a problem with atmosphere, it has very solid consequences. “The fact of the matter is, high school kids might not be as comfortable in someone’s house,” says Vallerga. Parents, too, are frequently skeptical of the safety of such venues. The two forces combined can prevent teenagers from coming out to shows, denying them a musical and social outlet. Corrie Minor, who has been booking all-ages shows in a somewhat more official and smoke-free venue, shares these concerns. She says of MVP, “In the end I think we’ll be comparable to a community center.” The Venue Project’s mission statement stresses a safe, drug- and alcohol-free environment, as well as a place where, for a small annual membership fee (probably $10), anyone can participate in the co-operative decision-making process and put up a show. The balance that the Milwaukee Venue Project has struck between realism and idealism is perhaps its greatest strength. While many details are up in the air — understandable given that much hinges upon the actual purchase or rental of a venue so that costs and possibilities can be assessed — the project members have already formulated rough concepts of annual membership, board operation, and location (on a bus line is essential), as well as what grants they can file for and which non-profit status to incorporate under. There are also plans for the venue’s content, including rotating art displays, reading material, and possibly arcade games to enhance the community center aspect. In the meantime, they do everything they can to prepare and to keep up momentum. The Venue Project began fundraising in earnest this past October, kicking things off with a rummage sale that netted over a thousand dollars. Since then, they have hosted additional rummage sales, as well as dinners and benefit shows. While they remain short of their estimate for a down payment, Hoffman, who has worked in real estate, is scouting for potential locations, and everyone is optimistic. Engels describes the current state of affairs: “Right now I feel like we’re promoting an ideology more than anything else. . .that’s not a bad thing. . .we’re turning more into an actual thing each and every day.” The actual things they’re doing include shows around Milwaukee, including a photography exhibition by UWM students, and a recent decision to purchase a P.A. system, since getting one to use for shows is “the worst part” according to Hoffman. The group’s goals will continue to become more solid after an upcoming fundraiser, the biggest one yet for MVP, a skating demo tentatively scheduled for August 30 at Four Seasons Skatepark that will be the first to combine skateboarding, BMX, and bike messengers. It boasts the involvement of Wisconsin skate chain Phase II and has garnered sponsorship from Red Bull and Adidas. The success of similar endeavors in Berkeley and Pittsburgh provides inspiration for the group, while the co-operative structure of Outpost and the Riverwest Co-op has informed some of MVP’s organizational structure. But these are only models. Success for MVP will be born out of members’ specific knowledge of Milwaukee, its music, its people, and its needs. As Vallerga says, the hardest part is sustaining momentum for a cause that is, until a building actually exists, unavoidably abstract. But her attitude remains upbeat and confidant. Hoffman puts it best when she says “we have a really strong knowledge base. . .I don’t see how we can fail.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 2 – Issue 7 – July 2003


Mdiv align=”left” class=”smallsub”>The Rummage Robot and sandwich board working by the Hi-Hat Lounge to raise money for the MVP.What is the Milwaukee Venue Project? MVP is a group of musicians, music fans, artist, dorks, and other community members just like you. We are dedicated to opening a non-profit, consumer co-operative space for live music, art, and whatever else you can imagine. Milwaukee has a fortunate location, a logical stop between Chicago and Minneapolis for many traveling artists and musicians alike. Our intention is to host a variety of both local and traveling bands and exhibitions with people assembling only for the love of social gatherings and live performances. Who can be involved? A consumer co-operative is owned by the people who use it. When you join a co-op, you become a member and an owner. A (small) nominal fee will be required for membership… As a volunteer organization, the direction that the project takes and the fun that we have is up to the owners. Monthly meetings are held to discuss and plan the future of the project. All ideas are welcome. Owners elect a group of board members to deal with the daily management of the space. Our Values as a Co-operative Include: 1. Creating a space that is welcoming, respectful, safe, and creative. Expect the unexpected. Have fun. 2. Focusing on what the members want to see and do. All members can be involved in making decisions and planning events. 3. Keeping the community’s resources (your hard-earned money) within the community, spent in accordance with our values. 4. Providing a drug- and alcohol-free environment for the enjoyment of all ages. If you are interested in helping or finding out more about the project, contact To be added to the venue project mailing list, e-mail .

The Rummage Robot and sandwich board working by the Hi-Hat Lounge to raise money for the MVP.