Anything goes at the Museum of Wisconsin Art's annual members' show.

Searching for an antidote to blockbuster museum shows that feature a familiar roster of art stars? Then head to the Museum of Wisconsin Art, where one of the quirkiest, most democratic exhibitions in the country opens on November 18. Sure, some of the works may look more like cave paintings than Caravaggios, but that’s part of the charm.

For more than 40 years, the MOWA has hosted an annual members’ show, inviting Wisconsinites of all ages and abilities to share their work with the public. There’s no selection process – the first 250 people to apply make up the roster. And that roster fills quickly. In 2015, it opened and closed in under four hours.

Once registered, the artists drop their work off at the museum, and the curatorial team sees it for the first time. Then they start sorting. “We group by genre and theme, but not by media or age,” says curator Erika Petterson. “And then it all goes on the wall, like a giant patchwork quilt.”

The day of the opening always draws crowds, and many of the featured artists attend. Some dress up; others don costumes inspired by the work they submitted. “People get a kick out of the eclectic-ness of it,” Petterson says. “It’s a celebration of creativity, a way to see what people are working on in their basements or craft rooms or studios.”

This year’s exhibition, titled “Once Upon A Members’ Show,” runs through January 7.

‘Members Only’ appears in the November 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 30, or buy a copy at

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