A Q&A with the organizer of Arte Para Todos.
There is more than one way to protest governmental change. Of course, there’s the picketing, the yelling, you know, the confrontational form of protest that, uh, seems like a never-ending cycle these days. But there’s another way to institute change, albeit on a smaller scale, but a change nonetheless, and that’s through individuals gaining the financial support from its communities to support a local cause.
We’ve seen two fundraising efforts in the local music scene already this year that help fund local non-profits. Milwaukee Record’s Local Coverage event showcased bands covering other local bands in an effort to raise money for Girls Rock Milwaukee, and the proceeds from the two-day Riverwest FemFest went on to support Milwaukee’s Women Center. The festival organizers realized that these organizations need the help from neighbors to grow a better community and instead of insisting a governmental handout, they compelled the change.
The size of these two new events pale in comparison to this weekend’s Arte Para Todos (not that it’s a contest or anything), as the festival, translated to “art for everyone,” spans three days, is spread out among three neighborhoods, supports three public schools and boasts a line-up of around 70 local bands, including Bliss & Alice, Whips, Christopher Porterfield, Canopies, NO/NO, GGOOLLDD, Midnight Reruns and Jaill.
With art education funding diminishing faster every year, the organizers picked three schools to raise funds for its art programs—Bay View High School, La Escuela Fratney, Tamarack Waldorf High School. The event divides its three days into three different neighborhoods—Friday’s festivities take place in Bay View, Saturday in Riverwest, Sunday on the East Side. Single event tickets run $7, day long passes are $12, and weekend passes are just $20. For the complete schedule visit the Arte Para Todos website.
Music Notes recently spoke with one Arte Para Todos organizer, Chuck Watson, who also puts on other community events like Bay View Gallery Night and Summer Soulstice. He talked about the negative impact that losing art education can have on the city, the massive size of Arte Para Todos, and the future of the fundraiser.
Why do you think art education is important for the city?
Chuck Watson: When we see art left out of core curriculum, which it usually is—it’s usually cut right away when cuts are made—you’re not getting a well-rounded education. You could debate and say that art was the first thing humanity ever did. Before they did science or math, they made art. To not carry that tradition through to a kid’s world, I feel that’s irresponsible.
At the same time, part of what this event is is closing the circle for artists and kids who are learning about art. Because if the kids don’t leave school without any knowledge of art or music, the odds that they will come and see your show or buy your painting or know anything about what’s going on in the scene is way less than if they’re educated on the subject. It’s a detriment to our music and visual arts community directly.
Most new festivals start small and grow slowly every year. What’s so astonishing about Arte Para Todos is that it’s this huge three-day, three-neighborhood festival right out of the gate. When you initially had this idea for a fundraiser, was your scope this big or did it morph into this?
CW: It was supposed to be one day, one place. I can’t remember exactly how it went, but I think when the booking started rolling and they got this booking crew together, the close knit reality of the local music scene in Milwaukee started to play its card. I think the music scene in Milwaukee is the tightest that it’s ever been. All the musicians know each other. There’s a really solid relationship and it became really apparent that this was going to be possible on that scale. The venues were immediately down, the response from the bands was amazing, I mean 70 bands—that’s out of control.
I feel that getting the bands on board would be easier than booking the music clubs in the city because the clubs really need to do what’s in the best interest of their bottom-line in order to keep its doors open. Was it difficult to book the venues?
CW: Not that I’m aware of. The reason why I think it works a little bit better—because it could have been more difficult—was because Milwaukee venues don’t generally bar split with the organizer or bands. So when there’s a door charge, in almost all venues that money goes to the bands. So, it’s no skin, other than paying for a sound or door man. The venue will pay them rather than cutting it out of the proceeds. I think for them it was a chance to be a part of something good for the neighborhood and at the same time not really have to take a hit. There really is no downside for the venues.
You do the booking for another big festival, Summer Soulstice. That’s an event that sometimes brings in bigger acts to help bring in a wider audience. Did you ever discuss having one non-local headliner play Arte Para Todos?
CW: No, and since taking over booking for Summer Soulstice, I won’t book any national acts. The bars and businesses in the neighborhood rely on the neighborhood customers, they don’t rely on people from Iowa to come and make sure Beans & Barley is doing good. When you already have something so great here, I don’t see any reason to reach out, especially when it’s about an awareness of what’s going on in our city. Any things like this I do, I try to stick to 100 percent local.
How did you decide on these particular schools?
CW: It was all personally chosen. Our art organizer Jeff Redmon had a year internship at Redline and Steve [Vande Zande], who is the art director at Bay View High School, was there with him the entire time. He knew Steve and he knew he could get connected to Bay View High School. Our friend Jerome [Knapp], who is the BID director on M.L.K., contacted Tamarack Waldorf, and Josh, more or less demanded that Fratney be included because he lives right around the corner. He thought that was important. I thought three was kind of pushing it, but he really wanted to do that school and represent Riverwest.
The picks this time were personal to us. Without knowing what the impact will be, monetarily at least, familiarity was the best side to err on. We all understand that the arts situation in the Milwaukee Public School system is bleak. And there are schools that are worse off than others, for sure. I think keeping it close this time just helped everybody to have much more of their head wrapped around what’s going on. We’ll see what happens. It’s hard to help everybody at once.
Yeah, you could raise funds for every public school in need, but then you can’t really see the difference. Keeping the fundraising aimed at a few schools, you can literally see the change that was made.
CW: That’s why we put the video on the website because we wanted people to connect directly and look into the eyes of the teachers of where this is going. Our ledger and all our finances will be published at the end. It will be 100 percent transparent. We will follow up with the schools and see what’s happening a few months down the road. We’ll talk to everybody again and see what that money does.
That’s what I really hope for this. I’m all for supporting the arts and music, but I’m also all for people becoming more aware of their individual impact on anything that they’re griping about. There are things more powerful than a vote. Those are things are when you get up and change that thing or move the thing that’s wrong towards what’s right. Sometime you have to stand up and change the thing that’s wrong.
It’s hard for us to see that direct connection because we don’t go to grade school. That’s what’s been interesting for me. I call it an awareness campaign. We can do this ourselves or we can wait for something to happen. I’m more for the do whatever you can while you can get it done because it gets things started right away. We could vote for a million years and never get arts back in schools the way they should be. But we can put them back there. This is our city.
Do you hope to continue this festival?
CW: I think we all do, especially with the response we’ve gotten from everyone. I think it probably needs to be reworked in its ability to reach. We’ll have to look at all the bits and pieces and see how it worked out. Maybe we’ll make it more broad, maybe we’ll make it longer, maybe we’ll wrap in more stuff. We have a great crew.
I don’t think the problems are going away anytime soon. I think the end game is growing—more schools, more money, more kids.
Arte Para Todos runs this weekend, starting Friday in Bay View, moving to Riverwest on Saturday and finishing up on the East Side on Sunday. For a complete list of the lineup and venues, please visit the Arte Para Todos website.