In this web series, we shine a spotlight on several local women, on top of their game in a variety of fields, showcasing the diversity of interesting and accomplished women in our fine city. See the rest of our Spotlight on Women series.
Katie Avila Loughmiller
Writer, artist, community organizer, co-founder of LUNA (Latinas Unidas en las Artes)
Hometown: Boston, MA
What is your artistic background and how did you end up in Milwaukee?
I have my MFA in art and public practice, which is essentially the intersection between art and community. I don’t really have one specific medium, but if I have to choose I’d say community. I consider myself a writer and a performer, but I’ve dabbled in all the visual arts.
I went to graduate school in Los Angeles where I had Sara Daledion as a professor. I talked her into being my adviser and came to Milwaukee to work with her on the Beerline Trail Neighborhood Development Project. I met so many cool people through that project three and a half years ago that I felt like my work wasn’t done here, so I decided to stay.
Where did you get the idea to start LUNA?
I had been living in Milwaukee for about six months and I met Gabi Riveros working for AWE (Artists Working in Education). We were hiring artists and I was really disappointed in the lack of diversity and so LUNA was my reaction to it. Not being from Milwaukee, I turned to Gabi (who is from here and went to MIAD) and asked, “Do you think Latina artist would want a group and what would that look like?” Luckily, she knew a lot of people and we all knew that we wanted something, but weren’t sure what. So we started just meeting and it continued to grow.
It’s been a slow, organic genesis over the past two years. June 2017 was our first official meeting. About six months in, we knew we wanted to show together because it’s so hard to break into the gallery scene. We knew if we showed work together, we could be intentional about our art and control the messages. Our first show in July 2018 at MUSE Gallery was the first time any of us had shown with all Latina artists and for some people, it was the first time they had shown work all together.
Tell me about your current digs…
We currently have this space on Cesar Chavez Drive through an initiative called Pop Up MKE. It’s a temporary, subsidized lease through Clarke Square Neighborhood through early December. Having this space pushed us to get more organized and become an official LLC, but it might not be totally sustainable. None of us have the means to have this be our full-time job without full-time pay. We are starting to get hired by other groups and we think it’s really important to get out and be in the community. The pop-up space has been really great for our group internally as well for us to meet more often and get to know each other.
How many members do you have an how can other Latinas artists become involved?
We have about 40 members and about 20 of them are really active. There is no application and we are really open to anyone who wants to join. Some people have said they were worried they weren’t Latina enough or enough of a professional artist, but there is definitely no test. It’s really about artists wanting to connect with their cultural roots.
We’re not trying to identity police anyone. I was born in Colombia, but adopted into an American family. I’ve recently reconnected with my family in Colombia and started using my biological last name Avila with my last name.
In the future, we are thinking about implementing a nominal membership fee. We’ve been charging a flat fee for members to sell their art at the space.
What are your plans for the future?
We hope LUNA continues to grow and take shape through word of mouth. The organization is really a product of what the members are able to contribute.
We want to support everyone’s personal goals and allow them to make money. It has to be a group effort for it to survive.
We plan to organize four to six shows a year. Next year, we’ve already been approached by a gallery in Madison and we plan to partner with the Milwaukee Rep to collaborate with them on a show they are doing on telenovelas.
What’s your favorite piece of Milwaukee art?
I am biased because I work at the at Mitchell Street Library. I just love the murals done by Erick Ledesma. They are the backdrop for every program that has happened at the Maker Space at the library. It has influenced the art in that space and is now a permanent structure.