How Six Milwaukee Artists Are Responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak

Six artists and performers talk about their indefinite hiatus during the pandemic.

Poet: Brit Nicole

“I lost five gigs within days. A lot of people’s security has gone away, so we’re all very vulnerable. You feel that anxiety. I also work for the Milwaukee Arts Center, so I see my people like, ‘How am I gonna pay rent?’ I’m grateful to Imagine MKE for providing [a relief fund] for artists and seeing our value. We’re human, and we want to do what we love, but sometimes unexpected things happen, and so I appreciate them for seeing that.One thing that’s been really beneficial for me is a group chat on Facebook, and we encourage each other – five or six of us women. That’s been really helpful, just staying connected. I also went live on Facebook the other day, reciting some poetry. I reached out to poets to send me their poems, and I read them. That ended up going for two hours. When it was all said and done, I had like 300 comments, and people were thanking me, because we’ve all been confined in such stasis.”

Musician: Chris Porterfield of Field Report

“Our agent was working on a tour for us that hadn’t been announced yet, but it’s definitely on indefinite hiatus now. I’ve looked at some of the livestreaming stuff. I performed live on Instagram yesterday – that just didn’t quite feel right. I’m looking at other platforms. I’ve got a kid who no longer goes to babysitters, so while everybody is sequestered and having all these creative epiphanies, I have literally zero time for creativity. This is going to be a test of endurance. We’re going to have to see if we can sustain it. I know there’s a lot of arts relief things in the works and benefits. All that stuff is super valuable and life-changing if not saving. Do whatever you can to connect with one another spiritually and socially rather than physically and see if that isn’t what it was all about in the first place, I guess. Let’s hunker down. It’s gonna get gnarly.”

Stand-Up Comic and Co-Founder of Milwaukee Comedy: Kaitlin McCarthy

“Between Milwaukee Comedy and The Laughing Tap, we’ve had to cancel at least 14 events in March. So obviously there’s a financial hit there. But personally, I just miss live comedy. It’s been 12 days and counting without live comedy. We’ve seen a lot of other independent producers around the state and country putting together online shows. We’ve definitely thought about doing that as well, but we’re live comedy purists, I suppose. We need the live audience. We need the energy in the room. You can’t replicate it. As soon as we can start doing shows again, we will jump right back in and put on a show as soon as humanly possible. In the meantime, we’re offering tickets for future shows, gift cards for The Laughing Tap and have a donation site open. Right now, you’re seeing a lot of people reaching out and helping, a lot of collaboration to keep artists safe and secure. I hope it continues, even once we’re through with all this. Art is always important, not just when there’s a global pandemic.”

Photographer: Kat Schleicher

“I just had my last shoot. It was a larger commercial shoot. I was actually getting scared before. I talked to the producer, and I’m like, “Is this gonna happen?” I needed to get this job done, so I could feel a lot safer financially. What we ended up doing was eliminating most of the crew. I talked to the producer about giving them a kill fee. I basically did everything myself, and they had the models show up one or two at a time, so we could keep it under 10. The whole vibe was weird. I personally don’t want to do any other work for a while. I have a few shoots in April, but I’ve pretty much written them off as not happening. As a freelancer, I’m just shutting down every possible expense. I just sent a promo out like three weeks ago and that was like the worst timing ever. I think there’s just not gonna be work, unless you’re doing essential news work.Right now, I just plan on hunkering down, and then when things start to get better, make sure that I have something to put out there.”

Painter and Upcoming Pfister Artist-in-Residence: Nykoli Koslow

Artists plan things so far in advance, so if stuff we’ve planned for over a year is happening now, we’re kind of out of luck. I was working two jobs and a bunch of odd jobs, and I had the Pfister residency, so I had a plan, but overnight the plan fizzled out. All the jobs were service industry jobs or gallery jobs or commission, and all those things don’t exist anymore. Because I was working freelance jobs, it’s hard to put that into the system and collect unemployment, so many more people than are accounted for don’t have jobs right now. I’m just hoping people take it seriously, so it doesn’t last as long as it potentially could. The arts community, everyone is kind of paycheck to paycheck. Even galleries and institutions are all making it month by month. To have it go away – we fall really hard. But the good thing about the Milwaukee community is we’re so collaborative. We work together so well. A group that genuinely cares about everyone else doing well, because if they’re doing well, we’re going to be doing well. So I think our city is unique in that we’ll help each other out through it, and I already see people doing that.

Visual Artist: Brandon Minga

There’s always a level of uncertainty having an independent creative practice, but this is a whole new level for me. In the eight years I’ve been completely independent, I haven’t experienced a situation where projects are on hold for the foreseeable future. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve been down and my anxiety has been through the roof. I’m not seeing the weekly revenue I would have. I’d love to say I have money put away or that I’ve been saving a little off the top but like many, I have accrued debt working on projects and especially moving and building out my new studio space [the House Of RAD – Resident Artist Doers]. I had been asking myself how I could help artists, and [Instagram live auctions] was the perfect answer. I’m donating 35% of all funds raised selling my work to the Imagine MKE artist relief fund. It’s been going pretty well. I mean, we all want to see our artwork go for large sums, but it’s more important at this time that we come together and help one another. It’s filling my heart to see that my followers are rising to the challenge and bidding on my work, knowing they are helping more than me. I would think, like many artists, we’ve worked too hard for too long to quit now. I feel like this is where we shine – artists more than any other folk can see opportunity in chaos.

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s May issue. 

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Archer is the managing editor at Milwaukee Magazine. Some say he is a great warrior and prophet, a man of boundless sight in a world gone blind, a denizen of truth and goodness, a beacon of hope shining bright in this dark world. Others say he smells like cheese.