Turning Point

The Eisner Creative Foundation

By - Apr 2nd, 2012 04:00 am

When the building that housed Milwaukee’s Eisner Museum of Advertising and Design was put up for sale in 2010, its board of directors did what they do best: they got creative.

Board chair Elaine Eisner founded the museum in 2000 to memorialize William F. Eisner, her husband and Milwaukee advertising innovator and entrepreneur who died suddenly in 1990. Faced with the loss of the building, board president Bill Eisner, William and Elaine’s son, said, “She felt like her dream was dying.”

Elaine Eisner, as seen on facebook. (Photo: unknown)

However, he said, “The museum was never about my father, but about making the professions of advertising and design exciting to people.” So, the board got to work envisioning how best to continue their mission.

They could have moved into a new location and re-opened, but the museum was never a great financial engine in the first place. “We were half in the museum business, half in the wedding reception business,” he said.

They toyed with the idea of digitizing the entire museum – eight semi-trucks worth of archival material – but that would’ve taken a couple years and the mechanics were challenging. And again, the model lacked financial sustainability. Although online archives are a possibility for the future, they wouldn’t be feasible as the organization’s primary focus.

Finally, the board got to the core of their mission – to educate and inspire people through advertising and design. From this, the Eisner Creative Foundation emerged. Its official launch was in February of this year.

“It’s freeing not to be shackled by the brick and mortar museum and by brides and grooms,” he said. “We have more flexibility now.”

The Foundation focuses on developing southeastern Wisconsin’s creative community by inspiring young people and making it an attractive place for creative professionals.

But it’s not all about helping individuals – the industry benefits as well. “You need to have a vibrant talent pool for agencies to keep the business in town,” he said. “You’re always trying to uncover the next creative person. They may be in some high school in Milwaukee.” The Foundation is also making a special effort to reach out to minority students.

The overall approach is multi-tiered. Working on a quarterly grant cycle, the Foundation provides grants to organizations and institutions that can most effectively inspire young people to make Milwaukee their creative home.

The grants are for any artistic or creative programming – not just in the fields of advertising and design. “A vibrant creative community benefits the ad industry,” said Eisner, “We beg, borrow and steal from each other. We’re not all compartmentalized.”

The first grant cycle closed March 15, and awardees will be announced on the Foundation’s website in mid-April. Next year, the Foundation will begin distributing scholarships to individuals who demonstrate the potential to become Milwaukee’s creative leaders.

By promoting and encouraging creative businesses and organizations, the Foundation also serves as a networking hub. It hosts monthly Turning Point Gatherings at advertising and design agencies during the school year, opening studios to students and enabling them to interact directly with professionals. Event co-sponsorship is another opportunity for collaboration the Foundation has already taken advantage of.

Although currently connected to institutions of higher education and nonprofit organizations, the Foundation will reach out to high school and even elementary students in the future. A speakers’ bureau made up of industry professionals and field trips are just some of the possibilities.

“A lot of these kids don’t realize the creative arts exist as an opportunity for them,” said Eisner. “It’s amazing to see their countenance change and eyes light up when they see everything done in an ad agency.”

Right now, the Foundation is in a healthy financial position. No longer needing to support the museum, it has money to fund its early grants. Once it gains visibility, fundraising will begin. Someday, Eisner hopes, this is a model that might even be replicated in other cities.

Bill Eisner is enthusiastic about the future. “The coolest thing about the Foundation now is to see what it’s going to become,” he said. “You don’t know who it’s going to impact, but it will be exciting to sit back and watch.”

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