How a Local Gallery Is Putting Money in the Pockets of Artists

A local gallery is putting money in the pockets of the artists it works with, one coin at a time.

On a cold, dark evening in late November, Real Tinsel was full of warmth and light. Several dozen people had crowded into the gallery for the opening of its latest show, “Buskers.” And they were carrying lots of loose change around with them, rolls of dimes or quarters that they’d purchased when they got to the gallery weighing down their pockets.

The coins were for the artists, who set boxes, buckets and jars in front of their creations. Some, like folk art aficionado Becca Kacanda – whose anthropomorphic planters look a bit like the shrines that outsider artist Father Mathias Wernerus built in Dickeyville – decorated their donation vessels to match their art. Others built them into the works themselves.

The show, which Real Tinsel billed as a fundraiser for underrepresented artists who rarely receive much money for their work, sprawled into the gallery’s studio spaces and basement. There, musicians played alongside an open guitar case filled with coins while an artist wearing a remarkably realistic mermaid costume lounged in a kiddie pool nearby. Whenever anyone asked her about her art she blinked up at them silently in response. “Maybe she only speaks mermaid,” someone wondered aloud, dropping a quarter into her pool happily enough anyway.

Somehow, the exchange of money lent a conviviality to the affair. Generous donations were commended by fellow visitors. And I caught a few artists grinning whenever they glanced down at the coins and dollar bills that had piled up at their feet. I understood why. It feels good to be paid for your work, and good to know that people value what you do too.

“Buskers” will remain on view through Jan. 11 at Real Tinsel (1013 W. Historic Mitchell St.). The artists featured in the show will keep all the donations they receive over the course of its run, and the gallery will match the final contribution amount with a gift to the Hunger Task Force.

Photo by Claudio Martinez
Photo by Claudio Martinez
Photo by Claudio Martinez



This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s January issue

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Lindsey Anderson covers culture for Milwaukee Magazine. Before joining the MilMag team she worked as an editor at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and wrote freelance articles for ArtSlant and Eater.