Equalizing Opportunities

A group of local female artists has formed a collaborative effort that produces exciting community-focused art.

When Katie Mullen realized that female artists still lacked equal opportunities within Milwaukee’s art world and elsewhere, she took action. Four years ago, she gathered a few female friends together and set a goal. They would make art about feminine beauty and identity. They named the group From Here to Her.

Xantico by Rachel Hughes. Courtesy of Here to Her.
Xantico by Rachel Hughes. Courtesy of Here to Her.

Women’s art collectives are not rare, but this one has unique characteristics. Its 12 members, in their 20s to 60s, come from varied backgrounds and professional fields, but only a few formally studied art. Mullen has a journalism degree, and recently started a small branding and design firm. Group leader Rosana Lazcano worked as a graphic designer at an advertising agency before quitting to spend time with her children. The type of art they’re drawn to – illustrational, graphic and socially engaged – seemed to lack outlets. It fell between the cracks of the commercial art and gallery worlds.

The collective now picks a new theme each year, and the resulting work is shown in an exhibition. It’s about networking and social justice, Mullen says. The 2015 theme was “My Sister’s Story,” which paired artists in the group with other women to develop noncompetitive alliances and share life stories. Art projects emerged from the encounters. Over the summer, members worked with True Skool, an urban artist organization, and paired young men with women, whom they interviewed about their lives, challenges and gender-related issues.

From Here to Her’s most visible project was its 2014 series of Alverno College billboards. The group was asked to create portraits of prominent Alverno graduates for the school’s “Because the World Needs Strong Women” campaign. Images of Cecelia Gore (executive director of the Brewers Community Foundation), Jennifer Kopps-Wagner (executive vice president and chief operating officer of Assurant Health), Jennifer Hruz (ProHealth Care nurse) and Jeanna Salzer (musician and vocalist) not only celebrated local women’s achievements, but also underscored the goals of the art collective. “We feel a strong responsibility,” Mullen says, “to address social justice issues, reach a diverse audience, and raise questions while providing a supportive environment.”

‘Equalizing Opportunities’ appears in the January 2016 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

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Debra Brehmer, an arts writer and curator, owns and operates Portrait Society Gallery, a contemporary art space in Milwaukee. She was also the former editor and publisher of Art Muscle Magazine and teaches part-time at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.