A Milwaukee Arts Extravaganza
Annie B. is no stranger to the stage. In fact, it’s where she feels most at home. The singer/songwriter has been on the music scene for more than a decade, working as a television producer in Nevada, a TV host in L.A. and, like any determined musician, she’s spent a lot of time traveling the country and playing gigs. In late 2007, after spending a summer on the road and eventually settling down in Austin, TX , a family illness brought her back home to Milwaukee. By that time, she’d fallen in love with Austin’s thriving indie music scene and was just getting used to having an address, so her stint in Milwaukee was only temporary — or so she thought.
One year later and still in Milwaukee, she found herself eager to get back to work and anxious to sink her teeth into the thriving arts scene around her. Since returning home, Annie realized that the city was a hotbed of untapped and underexposed talent. Being the natural born entertainer that she is, she decided to do something about it. In April 2009, she hosted the first ArtBeat — an eclectic stage show featuring only local artists and appropriately held the event at Bay View’s Hide House .
ArtBeat, much like Gallery Night & Day, occurs quarterly and sounds like a modern-day variety show. For each event Annie and her co-host, local freestyler Nick Ramsey, select five artists and performers across genres. The past two shows have featured spoken word, guitarists, filmmakers, dancers, singers, painters and sculptors. Each participant then has a 20-minute set, which is a combination of their performance and interviews with Annie and Nick.
“It’s kind of like MTV Unplugged meets The Late Show,” Annie says of the format.
For a better idea check out the video below, featuring a performance by poet and movement specialist Michelle Hatfield, who opened the first-ever ArtBeat showcase.
Controlling the flow of each set is crucial, and a lot of pre-production goes into each show. Before the doors open, Annie and Nick spend about two hours behind the scenes with the featured artists going over their interview questions to ensure that the Q&A portion of the set is coherent and natural. Artists in the shows talk about their inspirations and what motivates their work, or some share anecdotes about their experiences. This sort of intimate setting creates a truly unique and often powerful experience for the audience and performers alike.
ArtBeat offers the kind of exposure that’s difficult to come by — especially for up-and-coming artists. It also acts as a rare networking opportunity, attracting people from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines. Beyond that, Annie says that the real reason she created ArtBeat was to try and give back to the community, specifically to benefit kids and provide some sort of arts-related outreach to kids in Milwaukee.
“This idea has been floating around in my head for a while,” she says, “I knew that I wanted to create something that would help the community and enhance the art experience for Milwaukee’s youth.”
She started working with Express Yourself Milwaukee (EYM), an organization that works with at-risk youth to help empower them to create positive change in their lives and communities through after school programs focusing on art, music and dance. The proceeds from each event go to sponsor the variety of programs and workshops at EYM. As ArtBeat progresses, Annie says she would love to work with a variety of community-based youth outreach programs and expand her base of participating artists.
While the organization itself is still in the early formative stages, the possibilities are endless. And Annie is thinking big — she wants to see her brainchild grow and transform in years to come, hoping to build a larger network of artists and turn ArtBeat into one of the hottest events in the city.
“I want to make [ArtBeat] the thing to do in Milwaukee,” she says. “It’s funky, it’s unique … there’s no other show like it.”
And she’s right — for only $6 you get an entire evening of entertainment, plus free eats provided by Cafe Centraal and cheap wine (only $3 a glass!) at the bar. You’ll never find a more cost effective — and fun — Friday night elsewhere. The next ArtBeat will be hosted at the Hide House on Friday, Oct. 9 and will feature the talents of spoken-word poet Aaron Lundquist, photographer Steve Daubs, paintings and music by Shelby Keefe, saxophonist Jeremy Scott and performances by the Marvelous Unspeaking Troupe of Entertaining Scoundrels, aka The M.U.T.E.S.
Thanks to Annie B. and Nick Ramsey, two lucky TCD readers have the chance to win a pair of free tickets to see ArtBeat on Oct. 9! All you have to do is e-mail us with your name and daytime phone number — that’s it! In the meantime, check out the ArtBeat website for more information.