Art for all! It's a noble thought, but achieving that goal is no easy task. We asked four Milwaukee-area artists and performers to weigh in on what's being done locally to connect with a broader audience.
Actor and director Laura Gordon has long been one of the Rep’s most celebrated associate artists. Oboe player Kevin Pearl outperformed hundreds of others to snag a spot in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Nohl Fellow Rose Curley creates genre-defying artwork, currently on view at the Haggerty Museum of Art. And standout soprano Rachel Blaustein sings for the Florentine Opera.
RB: As an opera performer, the stereotype and the stigma is that a lot of people from the older generation tend to attend our performances. But this summer we’re doing outside concerts, and the audience is shockingly young. Last week we were performing at the Colectivo on Humboldt and these two guys playing basketball walked by and heard us and sat down, with their basketball, and stayed through the rest of the performance. I’ve never experienced something like that in any other city.
LG: I do see, no matter where I work in the country, there is a hunger for art, a hunger for storytelling. Working as an actor and a director, there’s an opportunity, and a responsibility to demonstrate and offer empathy, which I think, as a culture, we are sorely lacking. I think that the power of art is to evoke someone saying, “I feel just like that, I never knew anyone else felt like that,” or “I never thought about that before.”
RC: I think that technology reinforces all of that – we are all looking at our cellphones all the time. Everyone’s looking down at their phones, but if you’re standing there singing, everyone looks up and suddenly we’re all in this moment, in life, together.
KP: We started this neighborhood residency with the symphony in Riverwest and Harambee. We spent a week playing in small groups on the street and in bars. And I would say that it was largely people who would never come to the concert hall, either because of intimidation or accessibility. You know, there is a level of privilege you have to have to be in that world, which is unfortunate. The more that artists can share what we do outside of our safe spaces can be huge.
RC: I was spending a lot of time in Riverwest and Harambee, and the first performance that drew me in and kept me there was SistaStrings playing a duet they had arranged themselves at Public House [for 2016’s Riverwest FemFest]. I was like, “What? This is going on at Public House?” I was used to hearing folk music at Public House, which is nice, but this was just so compelling.
LG: I’m really intrigued by all of these offsite events. I think getting away from the institutions sometimes helps.
RB: Yeah, opera companies are finding warehouses or train stations or obscure places to tell their stories in a completely different way.
RC: Actually, what I saw was part of a festival that was organized by the young people of Riverwest to raise money for the women’s center. I think a part of why that SistaStrings performance was so great was because that was their community – it was empowering for them. It was all of the young people rising up.
This story is part of the 2017 Fall Arts Guide feature in our September issue. Click to read the rest of the guide.
Tune in to WUWM’s (FM 89.7) “Lake Effect” Sept. 8 at 10 A.M. to hear more about the story.