People turn out in droves on Gallery Night and pack new exhibits at the Milwaukee Art Museum. But does that translate to food on the plates of local artists? Not always. The Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, created in 2000, provides a support system for artists. Mike Brenner, 29, one of MARN’s founders recently appointed president […]
People turn out in droves on Gallery Night and pack new exhibits at the Milwaukee Art Museum. But does that translate to food on the plates of local artists? Not always. The Milwaukee Artist Resource Network, created in 2000, provides a support system for artists. Mike Brenner, 29, one of MARN’s founders recently appointed president of the all-volunteer group, says MARN has about 100 paying members. Brenner, a musician and visual artist, helps fellow artists share resources that make life, if not easy, a little less isolated.
Insider: Was it just coincidence that MARN emerged at the same time the Calatrava was taking shape?
Brenner: A lot of people involved in the arts scene for a long time knew this was an opportunity to piggyback on the press. Historically, there has never been an arts resource organization. We help artists figure out taxes, grant proposals, copyrights – basically anything that can help an artist live their life.
Insider: In forming MARN, what have you learned about local artists in Milwaukee?
Brenner: A group of us, about 30 or so, met every month for a while. At one meeting, we asked who’d be willing to stay six months. Most people raised their hands. We asked who’d stay a year and fewer raised their hands. We asked who’d be here five years from now and almost nobody raised their hand. So eventually it boiled down to six of us willing to commit to staying in Milwaukee for five years.
Insider: It’s still that hard to get people to commit to Milwaukee?
Brenner: Just about nobody’s willing to commit. But some people want to stay and see what happens here. It depends on if you want to have a voice or if you want to be a little fish in a big pond.
Insider: We’ve heard that Gallery Night, Milwaukee’s big art gig, isn’t exactly lucrative for the galleries or artists involved. What’s going on?
Brenner: In January, 1,600 to 1,700 people were at Gallery Night on that absolutely freezing night. But it’s just a party for them. They come for free wine and fancy cheese. I’ve also heard that most of the art is sold within a week after the night but not by people who went out on Gallery Night.
Insider: So what needs to change?
Brenner: What’s really going to turn this evolution is a re-education of the public to make it more about art. That’s why the Milwaukee Art Dealers Association got a grant to add Gallery Day. It will turn it into more of a weekend event to draw tourists. Hotels will even offer gallery packages. There could be a lot of potential there.
Insider: In addition to giving your time to run MARN, what sacrifices have you made for art?
Brenner: Last summer, I had a job [as a performance artist] dressing up in a gorilla costume and playing accordion Downtown – in 90-degree weather. I made next to nothing in tips and some people even pretended not to see me! How could you not notice a 6-foot-2-inch, 255-pound gorilla playing an accordion in Downtown Milwaukee? I guess some people didn’t get that it was a joke.
– McKenna Bryant and Natalie Dorman