Barbara Wanzo, the executive director of Black Arts MKE, doesn’t identify as an artist, but she does have a creative vision – for a better, brighter Milwaukee.
Black Arts MKE aims to help local African American-led arts groups with their finances, fundraising and marketing. Since officially opening its doors in January of 2015, the nonprofit has worked with the Bronzeville Arts Ensemble and Ko-Thi Dance Company (the third-oldest African American dance troupe in the country) to help the groups find new audiences while also balancing their books.
“The founder was using her own resources to fund the children’s ensemble for years,” Wanzo says of Ko-Thi. “Now it’s in the black and has a sustainable after-school program.”
Black Arts MKE also co-presents acts with the Marcus Center – nationally touring ones, such as Black Violin, as well as locally produced ones, such as the Langston Hughes-penned gospel powerhouse Black Nativity. And Wanzo wants to keep adding programs to its annual roster, until Black Arts MKE is presenting as many shows as established companies such as the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Thanks to a recent $18,000 grant from the United Performing Arts Fund, that goal now seems more reachable than ever.