Set of Seven 
The art world can be a serious, self-referential place. But this year’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowships exhibition (through Jan. 11 at INOVA, UWM’s Peck School of the Arts) is one big rumpus room. Among the seven selected for fellowships, there is architect-cum-designer Ray Chi, who builds a play fort from museum detritus and a snaky, climby thing out of swimming pool foam tubes. Fiber artist Sheila Held weaves tantalizing, natty narrative tapestries of undersea life and urban fantasy. Tim Stoelting reframes the familiar by rendering cement blocks in clear plastic, wooden scaffolding in concrete, and bricks in aluminum. Eddie Villanueva’s room of glowing tents emits burping noises – pure slumber party stuff. Come play. The art world just lightened up. (Debra Brehmer)

Photo by Sean Drews. 

Vending Machine for Books

If books can furnish a room, then a library almost certainly nourishes a neighborhood. Unfortunately, not every corner of the city has easy access to that fountain of knowledge. But thanks to Milwaukee Public Library, library card holders can visit the MPL Express at Silver Spring (5550 N. 64th St. ) 24/7. Brew City has become just the fourth municipality in the country to unveil these mini-bibliothecas, which have a similar setup to a vending machine, stocking books such as The Devil in the White City or Horton Hatches the Egg. If none of the 340 titles on site strike your fancy, you can request just about any item – DVDs and CDs included – in the MPL catalog and have it delivered to the kiosk. Melvil Dewey never had it so good. (Tim McCormick) 

An Educator’s Journey 
In Howard Fuller’s no struggle, no progress (Marquette University Press), he recalls leaving the Oval Office of President George W. Bush after being embraced as a rare black champion of the conservative school-voucher movement. Fuller thought: “This man has no idea who I really am.” The same could be said of progressives calling him a sellout. Or anyone who only remembers Fuller as the former demonstration leader who became Milwaukee Public Schools superintendent. There were many Fullers: North Carolina community organizer so hated by whites that police took bets on his assassination; founder of Malcolm X Liberation University caught in a violent Mozambique revolution; Marxist labor organizer turned Bradley-funded union adversary. Fuller dismisses critics who see him as a tool of the right. He quotes Harvard’s Derrick Bell that American blacks only make progress when their interests converge with those in power. (Joel McNally)

Sloshy Noises
The growler invasion continues in Milwaukee, and beer lovers benefit. Tosa’s the malt shoppe (813 N. Mayfair Rd.) is the latest spot offering fresh beer in those handy reusable glass containers. Thirty different taps from a small bar area in the back of the store provide plenty of choices – ranging from Bell’s Two Hearted Ale to Founders Porter – for craft beer fans to fill three sizes of growlers. The variety doesn’t end there. A massive glass cooler and plenty of shelves hold nearly 1,000 bottle and can varieties – domestics and imports. Keeping tabs on all of that beer isn’t easy, but three full-time employees are Cicerone-certified beer servers (think sommeliers of beer), so they know what they’re talking about when guiding thirsty patrons through the massive selection. (Dan Murphy)

Felines of Folk
Don’t let the cheeky, feline-adorned cover art fool you. Ladders’ debut record, Suha, is no laughing matter. The release highlights the jaunty folk four-piece’s aptitude to yield graceful, beguiling results. Its ethereal aesthetic conjures up the crypticism of indie-rockers Grizzly Bear, but as the album progresses, more straight-forward connections to Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes appear. Those influences sometimes wear too prominently on the sleeve, but these lads are no copycats. They’re still prowling to find a distinctive sound that cradles the line between mystery and accessibility. Although some questionable production choices disrupt the album’s airy pastoral mood every so often, this promising effort forecasts a healthy maturation process for these growing kittens. (Kevin Mueller)