MARN looks Beyond the Canvas
In contemporary society, when the very definition of art is as fluid as the physical manifestation of artistic expression, there seems to be a slight schism between artists working in more traditional forms and those who embrace and incorporate new media and technology.
So when the Milwaukee Artist Resource Network decided to host a “non-traditional” plein air event — a forum typically reserved for painters — to include other media, it’s safe to say that a few feathers could have been ruffled.
Luckily, the Milwaukee art community has grown accustomed to cross-pollination. MARN tapped into that collaborative attitude with “Beyond the Canvas,” inviting artists working in a variety of media — from painting to sculpture, printmaking to photography– to participate in a plein air like no other.
Over the course of 12 days, over 60 artists produced work that was either created in or about the Menomonee Valley, using its lush expanse as inspiration.
Executive Director Melissa Musante says that the event was created to embrace the artists who have supported MARN over the years, and also to bring in those who may have felt alienated in the past.
“We wanted to figure out a way that we could engage those people,” Musante says, “Our stuff tends to be a bit more contemporary and I think that traditional artists might feel put off by that. So we looked at it and said ‘how do we fix this?’”
“Rather than everything being executed on site, the whole idea is that they create these pieces between October 1 – 12, and everything must be informed by and about the Menomonee Valley,” Musante says. “It raises the awareness of the valley to a group of artists that might not be aware of what’s available down there.”
Musante admits that some were apprehensive about the event — specifically artists who wondered whether it was a level playing field.
“Traditional painters were a bit confused, and other media concerned that they would be out of place,” she says. “We really tried to make sure that everything stayed fair, and on even ground.”
Part of that involved selecting jurors outside of MARN. Noted collector Tim Frautschi, Annemarie Sawkins of the Haggerty Museum and gallerist David Barnett will sit on the jury, and will award prizes in five categories: Traditional, Sculpture/Assemblage, Time-based Media, Photography/Digital and Printmaking. All work created during the event will be on view and for purchase on Gallery Night and Day.
Musante will also use the show as a platform for her “Collecting 101” talk, to assist first-time art buyers and laypersons in building their own collections.
“Art is for everybody — not just the über rich,” she says. “Anyone can own art — and art that is produced here — because a lot of really good art is produced locally.”
The last time I spoke with Musante, she had just taken the helm as MARN’s first Executive Director in quite some time, and spoke of plans to take the organization in a bold new direction.
It was mid-summer 2009, and MARN was forging ahead with the launch of Art In Milwaukee and a new Salon series. It was also a time when words like “economic recovery” were far off in the distance, and when funding for arts non-profits was slim, to put it mildly. Fundraisers were held, workshops and events hosted in various locations, and MARN kept on keeping on. And despite a lack of funds, had a really great year.
“We really came through with flying colors,” Musante says, “I think we’re stronger today than we ever have been.”
Proof positive that things are looking up: just last week, MARN realized a long-term goal and was able to move into it’s own brick-and-mortar space in Washington Heights.
MARN was able to acquire the space through a grant from the William and Alicia Schoeneich Arts & Culture Fund of Greater Milwaukee Foundation, which they secured earlier this year.
The building will be a flex space, hosting workshops, exhibitions and salons, and will also be a resource center for artists — whether that’s information on how to prepare an invoice or simply access to a computer. Musante says she would also like to open the space to playwrights and musicians.
“We really want the space to become this crossroads for artists and their audiences,” Musante says.
And this is not just any space — MARN’s new home sits within Luckystar Studio’s former gallery.
“It has good ghosts,” Musante laughs.
The future looks bright and incredibly busy for the team at MARN. As our conversation wraps up, Musante shuffles through a day planner that’s got penciled notes in every margin between now and the middle of 2011. It is exciting, but the work and financial stress are both far from over — there are still websites to be revamped, salons and workshops to facilitate and funds to garner in order support those projects.
But at least now, there’s a roof over MARN’s head, and that’s a good start.
The new space at 5407 W. Vliet St. will make its public debut with a member’s exhibit on November 5. Works from Beyond the Canvas will be on display at Helios, 1207 W. Canal St., October 15 from 5-9 p.m., and also October 16 from 10 a.m. — 4 p.m., including Musante’s ‘Collecting 101” lecture at 3 p.m. and a guided tour of the Menomonee Valley with Laura Bray at 4 p.m. For more information, click here.