Erin Petersen

Creative sustenance with MK-Eat

By - May 17th, 2011 04:00 am

MK-Eat: Bringing art and community together over dinner. All photos courtesy Daniel Kelly.

Breaking bread is one of the oldest metaphors for fellowship; people gather around dinner tables to celebrate, to give thanks, and to share in a collective experience of imbibing and enjoying a good meal — food, after all, can be a great unifier.

Here in our fair city, MK-Eat takes this concept and pairs it with local artists of all stripes to advance some of the diverse creative efforts in Milwaukee. Think a dinner party for the arts, organized by and centered entirely around the community.

Modeled after similarly successful projects in cities across the world, MK-Eat works like this: local artists submit proposals for projects (check out some examples here), which are then presented at a quarterly dinner. Admission to the event (on a sliding scale of $10-$20) not only buys your meal, but also a vote. Diners submit votes for their favorite project, the numbers are tabulated and the winner receives the money raised from ticket sales to use toward funding their project.

Essentially, the goal is to raise money to fund projects that ultimately benefit the community.

The inaugural MK-Eat was held May 7 at the Riverwest Public House. Though the exact number of attendees isn’t quite clear — some people came for the presentations, but did not purchase a meal/vote — organizer Daniel Kelly says that 75 votes were cast, totaling $500 in grant money for the winning project. Three dedicated volunteers — Jen White, Bez Jak, and Erin Christman — created an impressive menu for the evening as well. Staying close to the origins of The Soup Network, which inspired MK-Eat,  the event featured a smorgasbord of chilis, soups and chowder, all homemade using whole, locally-sourced ingredients.

Kelly says the inspiration struck him after attending FEAST Minneapolis (an acronym for Funding Emerging Art with Sustainable Tactics). He wanted to see something similar in Milwaukee, and so he began organizing MK-Eat in February, seeking out possible volunteers, locations and of course, submissions.

“I’m extremely pleased with the way things turned out,” says Kelly. The next MK-Eat will be held in September, although location, date and time are still up in the air. While the Public House was a perfect match for this first event, Kelly says that he wants to be able to move future dinner parties around the city to introduce MK-Eat into various communities and neighborhoods.

“I really want to make [MK-Eat] more inclusive,” he says. “Hopefully it will grow into an event that’s independent of any one person or location.”

Artists created poster outlines and then presented their projects to the crowd.

In all, there were eight presentations, running the gamut from film/video to visual art and performance. Some projects centered on themes of environmental stewardship, using art to bring attention to issues of pollution, consumption and waste; others seek to highlight the rich and diverse enclaves of Milwaukee through projects built around specific neighborhoods or historical structures.

The winners and top vote-getters on May 7 were Makeal Flammini, Jessica Myszka-Lewis and Ella Dwyer, known collectively as The Parachute Project. Formed just over a year ago, The Parachute Project is a mobile art organization that seeks to inhabit some of Milwaukee’s abandoned or forgotten spaces as a means of making connections to the broader community through art and shared history. In a series of (mostly) quarterly, one-night only shows, the project takes over empty historical landmarks that dot Milwaukee’s cityscape, and use those spaces as venues for artists, performers and filmmakers.

From The Parachute Project’s mission statement: “Our intention is to reestablish vibrancy and strengthen our community by using art as a means to move people within our city to places that have been overlooked by the inevitable isolation that comes with economic downturn. As members of the Milwaukee community, we refuse to sit passively by as our city empties itself of life and commerce.”

Left to right: Ella Dwyer, Makeal Flammini and Jes Myszka of The Parachute Project

This summer, the Project will bring internationally esteemed Belgian painter Kati Heck to Milwaukee for a cutting-edge exhibition of contemporary art, along with Colin Matthes, a Milwaukee-based interdisciplinary artist whose work has been shown aroud Milwaukee and the world. He currently teaches at MIAD and is a member of Justseeds artist cooperative. The group is teaming up with Historic Milwaukee, Inc. to help locate a space for the show, which will take place August 19. Much of the details are still TBA as the group coordinates with Heck and works on raising funds and finding sponsorship.

“Kati is a really well-known painter who’s shown in New York, Los Angeles, London, Belgium…she makes large scale paintings that walk between super photorealism and illustration,” says Flammini, adding that the Parachute Project became acquianted with Heck after Matthes did a residency in Vienna five years ago. “That’s kind of how we “got” Kati…she’s kind of out of our league,” Flammini jokes.

Over a round of beers at the Public House, the group noted that finding the money to support these projects can be difficult, and often their funds come from local small business or directly from the community itself — East Side staple Beans & Barley and local entrepreneur Scott Johnson are sponsors for the August exhibition.

The $500 grant from MK-Eat will be funneled into a fund that will help pay for travel expenses, supplies, installation and the myriad costs involved with organizing and curating an international art show.

“It was amazing…to see an organization that’s not non-profit, it’s just totally the community supporting the arts,” Flammini says of the event.”It was just really amazing to see that a community event like that can happen.”

“There was something sort of humble about it,” adds Myszka. “It had a ‘no frills’, uncomplicated attitude — just come in, eat some food and vote for whatever project you like.”

In a time when money for the arts is hard to come by, every last dime counts, and artists — creative thinkers that they are — are always on the lookout for alternative funding sources. But Kelly is quick to point out that MK-Eat is no alternative to Percent for Art grants, naturally. Instead, it’s a chance to connect people to art and to each other. While the money doesn’t hurt, MK-Eat #1 showed that sometimes just having a forum in which to present your ideas to a wider audience can be just as valuable.

“It’s really just a great environment for emerging artists to get support,” says Kelly. “And it’s a really positive experience. There are no sore losers, and whether or not they get the grant, [artists] will still go on and complete their projects.”

For more information or to get involved in MK-Eat #2, check out their blog or Facebook account for updates.

Categories: Art, Dining

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