MVAR meets with director of Cultural Alliance

by Colette Odya Smith

In December, through the efforts of Mike Brenner, founder of MARN (Milwaukee Artist Resource Network), and owner of Hotcakes Gallery on Pierce Street, the Milwaukee Visual Artists Roundtable representatives met at Hotcakes with Tony Forman, the Executive Director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee. Nancy Lamers, SE Chapter Chair, Gary Gresl, Evelyn Terry and I were members of WP&S attending.

The purpose of the meeting was to acquaint the visual artist community with the creation of and development plans of this new identity.

The Cultural Alliance of Greater Milwaukee was formed in 2003 as part of an effort by community and artistic leaders to organize an umbrella advocacy group to work on behalf of the many individual artistic enterprises in the area. It began as focused on visual and performing arts but quickly expanded to include most of the large and broadly defined cultural institutions such as MAM, The Milwaukee Public Museum and I believe, even the Zoo. Somewhere along the way, the visual artists and their organizations never got connected or included in the early development. And even though our financial and organizational clout is not as developed as the major members, we found ourselves warmly welcomed by Mr. Forman to learn about and hopefully to participate in the Cultural Alliance.

Their mission statement includes becoming “a unifying voice for enhancing awareness, value and economic stimulus for the greater Milwaukee arts and culture industries”. Toward this end we were made aware of their efforts to create an inventory of cultural organizations through a survey they are conducting. Mr. Forman was genuinely interested in learning more about our member associations, such as LMA, WP&S, RAA and ABEA and getting our information included in the survey. Once this initial inventory is completed, they intend to pursue focused support efforts based on further market research they will be conducting.

So, what does all this mean to us as members of Wisconsin Painters and Sculptors? First, it means that we have a solid opportunity to stand up and be counted, recognized for the contributions we make to the artistic vibrancy of our region. (The Alliance is expanding to cover a seven county area: Ozaukee, Washington, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, Kenosha, and soon, Walworth counties). Secondly, as a member of the Cultural Alliance (for an annual fee of $50 for groups under $25,000 annual income), we get included in the benefits of their advocacy work. The Southeast Chapter has officially joined the Alliance; a sound investment of $50 annually yielding substantial rewards in the end.

Tony Forman shared many hopes for what they can accomplish in the future including the possibility of creating a co-op health care plan for individual artists, creating an online resource area, and offering numerous networking opportunities within the cultural, corporate and funding communities. Becoming involved now gets us in on the ‘ground floor’ of an organization with powerful members, a skilled and highly visible board of directors with access to extremely important grant money that is poised to become an increasingly effective voice for the arts.

Those of us at the meeting came away with the clear feeling that it is important for all our visual art associations to become members of the Alliance and to make sure that the voice of the individual visual artists is heard: so that what we have to contribute is recognized and included in plans for the future of the region.

A prime example of an event that is now in the planning is the Cultural Alliance’s hosting of the National Convention of “Americans for the Arts” coming to Milwaukee June 3-5th, 2006. Three pre-conferences are also being planned on Education, Public Art, and Performing Arts. Arts tours are being designed for the participants. Vendor and information areas are expected. With approximately 1,000 attendees from across the nation being here, we need to have the visual arts well represented in this conference experience. With membership, WP&S will be able to participate and be kept aware of conference events as well as other such significant future developments.

This is the kind of exciting arts action we can be a part of when we reach out to the larger community as we are doing with this membership. The volunteer needs that may arise as we go forward will undoubtedly require some more of us to get involved, but it will certainly be to the benefit of those individuals and our membership as a whole as well.

We will be talking about the Cultural Alliance more at our general meetings. We hope that this report helps to fill in the background information for our consideration of whatever actions we want to take in this regard.