Monday, May 31, 2010

Where to find free concerts in Milwaukee

OK, raise your hand if you think summertime is the best season in Milwaukee! Mine's up. And it's not only because we have to wait so long through what passes for spring around here (though we had an unusually nice one this time, I must admit.) Summer brings everyone out to celebrate - anything there is to celebrate!

It's festival season, of course. But one of the best things about summer in Milwaukee is hearing free music concerts. There's one nearly every day - somewhere nearby - all summer long and into fall. The biggest problem with so many choices has always been, simply, to know about them and where they are.

Until now!

Thanks to Lois Wesener, there is a website that will tell you what's happening where, day by day, or by venue. It's called Free Music Milwaukee. Check it out!

Some days have multiple choices. (Look at July 28, for example.) Music without borders: the variety is all there, from jazz, blues, country, pop, hip hop, to classical, and everything in between. I did a quick run down the list to look for one of my favorite rockin blues groups: Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin'Altarboys. There they are, at Cathedral Square on June 17, for Jazz in the Park. Cool.

Lois began compiling her list about 10 years ago because she was going to so many of them herself. Friends got wind of it and before long the word was out that Lois was the go-to person if you wanted to know about free concerts. But it remained word-of-mouth until this year, when she started up the website.

I asked Lois why she spends what is obviously a lot of time on this project. Here is what she said:
"What I know is that we have long winters here in Milwaukee - we spend a lot of time indoors and brave the cold and snow when we're out and about. I think people here truly appreciate nice weather when it gets here; and we like music - especially when it's free! Why else would we have 400+ events to go to? So, it makes me feel good to facilitate folks getting out with their friends and into their neighborhoods for some relaxation and enjoyment in our busy lives."

Free Music Milwaukee may be the most comprehensive review of free concerts, too. Lois finds that many of her listings do not appear in other public music reviews. They are the result of her personal persistence and investigations. And if you know of an event that is not already listed, you can help out by going to the Free Music Milwaukee contact page and telling Lois about it.

Thank you, Lois, for sharing!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lots of Art in Milwaukee

If you don't get the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or didn't happen to see today's paper, check out the CUE section online at Art City. It's nice to see CUE full of visual arts! Thanks, Mary Louise Schumacher, for great coverage of what's happening. One of the things that is happening happens today: don't miss the grand opening of the Lynden Sculpture Garden. See my previous blog.

The big story is the planned expansion of the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. Though coming at a hard time financially, it is a good move for a lovely little museum with an important mission. We must hope that the economy hasn't forced the designers to compromise too much. According to the review, HGA architects not only haven't compromised but made good on the opportunity necessitated by crisis.

Museum of Wisconsin Art concept drawing, HGA architects

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lynden Sculpture Garden opens Sunday - Yes!

The public is about to be let in on one of Milwaukee’s best kept secrets. For decades the Bradley Sculpture Garden remained invisible to drivers passing by on busy Brown Deer Road. A tall fence of weather-worn vertical timbers, like the ramparts of a colonial era pioneer outpost, kept the treasures inside from view.

Once a year, in August, the public was invited to a “garden party,” so it wasn’t a complete secret. Although the public wasn’t admitted—except for that one day each year—hundreds of school children, along with their teachers, were able to take tours of the garden led by docents from the Milwaukee Art Museum. That is how I was introduced to the remarkable collection of modern sculptures behind the mysterious wall. I felt privileged, but as an arts educator, it was a guilty pleasure. My natural instinct is to make art accessible to all and I always wished that the gardens would be opened for everyone to enjoy.

On Sunday my wish comes true.

With a new name and mission to serve the public, the Lynden Sculpture Garden has its grand opening from noon to 5 pm on Sunday, May 30. I’ve been there many times and I plan to go. If you’ve never been there, now’s the chance. The sculpture alone is worth the $5 price of admission, but it wouldn’t be a grand opening without additional festivities. (Check it all out on the Lynden Garden website.)

Because they were all purchased by Mrs. Bradley during the 1960’s and 70’s, the collection has a marvelous cohesion. Her taste ran mostly to abstraction, as these few samples illustrate, but the polka dotted cows by Samuel Buri “grazing” on the edge of the pond are a delightful exception.

There is something magical about situating abstract sculptures in a landscape like this. I’ve spent too many hours trying to explain minimalism to skeptical high school students, but when I bring them to this place and they see it against the carefully groomed hills, pond, and trees of the garden, it just seems right.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

New book about John Cage’s 4’33”

Who knew that four minutes and 33 seconds of silence could generate so much talk? Or, in this case, written words. Of course, this isn’t just any random four and a half minutes in time (although, paradoxically and not coincidentally, it could be). 4’33” is the title of John Cage’s most famous and controversial musical composition and the subject of a new book, titled No Such Thing as Silence: John Cage’s 4’33” by Kyle Gann.

For the uninitiated, the composition called 4’33” was first performed in 1952 by pianist David Tudor in an open air theater in Woodstock, NY. Tudor did not play the piano, however, because the piece requires the musician and any musical instrument present to remain silent during the titular duration of the performance. An audience that is prepared for this will also remain, if not silent, at least respectfully quiet. As the title of the book suggests, the experience yields something other than silence. What they hear is whatever random noises the environment of the venue provides. Audiences that were not prepared for this have been known to react less charitably.

Whether 4’33” is “the apotheosis of twentieth-century music” or a scandal depends on one’s point of view. Although I’ve been aware since I was very young of the sensation caused by this piece, not being a musician, it was never more than a curiosity in the back of my mind. Gann’s book, which I picked up from the library on a whim, has been a surprising treat. I freely admit that, although I “get it,” I’m not a big fan of either minimalism or pure conceptualism in art. This piece stands as one of the monumental achievements of both in music. That I found the story of its creation compelling is a tribute to the author, who writes without the dense academic jargon normally associated with such work.
I must confess that, even after reading the book, I mentally roll my eyes when 4’33” is described as being “composed.” The score, which adorns the book cover (right), is a page full of blank staffs. But I found the book compelling for another reason: I love the story of Cage’s creative process and the transformation of his thinking over time. This sounds paradoxical, but it took years to complete a work that contains not a single note. Cage originally conceived it as an expression of silence and had planned to title it “Silent Prayer.” But he gradually concluded that there is “no such thing as silence.” His composition would frame the period of time during which it would be the audience’s responsibility to perceive the world. Hence the title 4’33”.

Among Cage’s many influences was the equally seminal—and controversial—artist Robert Rauschenberg, whose white paintings of 1951 (see below) were the visual equivalent of silent music. Other influences range from Erik Satie, to Muzak, to Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. Cage in turn had a profound effect upon a younger generation of composers whose repertoire of sounds that could be considered musical had suddenly become unbound and infinite.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Betsy Damon: Keeper of the Waters

If you attended the talk and workshop by Betsy Damon at UWM a while ago, you know that her art is a wonderful integration of aesthetics and environmental advocacy and healing. If you didn't, I invite you to check her current activities out at Keepers of the Waters.

While you're at it, I hope you'll check out my own more humble efforts at Urban Wilderness.

Stonework by Betsy Damon from her website.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Dream

The following is called an essay by its author, Laura Bayless. To me it seems more like a prose poem. It is an introductory piece, in either case, to a slim volume entitled Persistent Dreams: A Collection of Poems and Essays. I discovered the book in a friend's bookcase. This piece immediately engaged me in a deeply personal way. It’s one of those things that I come across every now and then that I wish I had written, or – to be more accurate – I feel like I did write, on some unconscious, archetypal level. In other words, I can relate to the feelings expressed in it. Perhaps it describes my own rather recent impulse to blog.

The Dream

I have strayed from what is calling me, not out of neglect or temptation, but out of a need to heal. I have begun to hear the summons, the muted drumbeat growing louder. The mind has not forgotten. The heart has not forgotten, but the spirit was raw and weary.

I have seen the beasts waiting for me at the edge of tangled woods, their eyes like great dark stars, watching, waiting for me to walk into their caverns and lay down to sleep. I do not sleep now, not for long, not deeply – as if I know I might not want to return from the everlasting dream.

Discovery is my life task and I am not finished. I am called to explore for as long as I am able, to delve into the essences of nature, become integrated with mysteries, not disconnected from secrets but sifting through them like beads of mist through the forest, nourishing the limbs and roots of my body, the sap in my veins.

I am called to make stains on pages, crimson-rimmed clouds on a canvas, complete the vision.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MATA Juried Membership Show Preview

Pandora's Garden, by Jean Sobon.

The Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art (MATA) has been promoting art education and the professional and creative growth of its members for approximately 60 years. Its premier event is the annual spring membership show, which currently is on display through June 18 at the 100 East Wisconsin Building (corner of Wisconsin Ave. and Water St.)

The opening reception and awards presentation will be held this Saturday, May 22 from 5:00 – 6:30 pm and is open to the public.

Phil Krejcarek setting up one of his assemblages, made from a variety of toys. At first glance the work seems whimsical, but closer inspection is rewarded with an ironic wit and conceptual integrity.

What I find remarkable about this annual exhibit is not the fact that elementary and secondary as well as college art teachers create art of their own in addition to nurturing that of their students; it is the consistently high quality of the work. If the range of styles, media, and techniques used is often quite broad, it merely serves to enrich the show and demonstrate the value of personal creativity amongst those whose primary vocation is to inspire the creativity of others.

The judges for this year were Bruce Knackert from UWM's Inova Gallery and Richard Knight from the Tory Folliard Gallery. Since the awards will not be announced until Saturday, I cannot report on them. However, I have seen the work and I shall provide a sampling that I hope will get you to come to the opening, or at least to visit. (The building is open 7 am – 6 pm Monday – Friday.)

Full disclosure: I am not a dispassionate observer since I have been a MATA member for about 30 years and I have two works in this show. Consequently I have known some of the other exhibitors for much of my career. However, although there are familiar names under many of the art works, I am frequently surprised by the work that is there to discover. I have come to expect a stimulating experience at the MATA show. Not every annual show lives up to expectations. This year’s is excellent!

Jim Dietz’s two rather different pieces are both entitled “self-portrait.” One is a free standing sculpture that is clearly figurative, but assembled from oddly shaped machined lumber and modeled clay. The other (detail at right) hangs on the wall like a painting but is also more dimensional and incorporates found objects into its dark, sculpted surfaces. This one is subtitled “Ressurection.” I hope the artist feels better soon!

Sheri Van den Boom creates amazingly intricate and lushly tactile hand-made books, no two alike in form and content. That the two in this show necessarily are under glass frustrates my need to touch and read them. The “book” shown in this detail (below) is contained in a carefully crafted frame house with reproductions from William Blake emblazoned on the front. It is displayed open to reveal that each “room” of the house is a tiny colorful, hand-lettered book. The miniature books hide behind covers that resemble the doors of this masterfully conceived house.

For something very different, there is Frank Juarez’s subtle take on minimalism and color field abstraction (right).

I don’t have time or space to do this show justice. I’m missing some of the other gems. You’ll just have to go see it. But I will include one final example. It wouldn’t be a MATA show without stalwart, Chuck Wickler, who has spent a lifetime teaching in an elementary setting and producing a remarkable body of conceptually demanding work. This one (below) is typical, using language and color to create layered meanings. Wickler’s style is immediately recognizable and yet each new piece is fresh and thought provoking.

For more info, click on MATA.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AIPAD show in New York: favorite pick

Although it's been a little while since I visited New York and saw the AIPAD Show, (see earlier post) I haven't done it justice. I'll add a couple thoughts.

There's no way I could actually pick a favorite at a show that includes so many luminaries from throughout the history of photography, like Cartier-Bresson, Arbus, Atget, Weston and the like. There were contemporary icons like Salgado as well. If I could afford to collect at these levels I would love to have them all.

So, to narrow the field, I'm picking a personal favorite for a different reason. I was treated to several portfolios of Jeff Brouws's work at the Robert Mann gallery and I found them quite compelling. I've heard of Brouws but hadn't gotten to know his work that well before. His most recent series is called RR Rights of Way. They depict the mostly grassy and overgrown spaces that railroad tracks once inhabited but which have become merely lines that cleave the landscape. They appeal to the strong strain of urban wilderness in my own work.

A quick google search doesn't turn up any examples, unfortunately. The image below, called Rage, is from an earlier series, called Language in the Landscape, from Brouws's website.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Exit Through the Gift Shop" a fun movie - but is it ART?

It is billed on the director’s website as “the world’s first street art disaster movie” and it seems to have generated nearly as much controversy as the illegal artistic activities it portrays. The director is the notorious Banksy, as secretive on-screen—where his identity is concealed as he deadpans the quips that are among the film’s most entertaining moments—as he is in the dangerous world of subversive street art.

Whatever the truth—and that notion is as nebulous as Banksy’s true identity—this film is engrossing. It’s ostensible protagonist, Thierry Guetta, is a wanna-be street artist with an obsessive desire to record the nefarious activities of those he admires. Most of the story line follows Thierry as he travels around the world to find and film street artists engaged in their clandestine endeavors. These include the now famous Shepard Fairey and many others who go only by nom de guerres like Swoon, Cheez, and Coma. The movie looks like a documentary, but the expected trajectory of the plot is as ephemeral as the graffiti. (In this one fashion it reminds me of another movie I recently saw on DVD: The Informer. Like “Exit,” that very different movie sets up an expectation—the standard Hollywood thriller—and gradually assumes a surprising new identity as a psychological portrait without losing its pacing.)

I was glad I didn’t read the NY Times review of this movie before seeing it (and therefore recommend against it, hence no link) because it reveals too much of the ending, which should come as a surprise. However, the reviews are overwhelmingly positive. (Source:

The movie leaves more questions in its wake than it answers even without the author’s mysterious identity. What is the true nature, purpose, and—a big one—value of “street art?” Don’t confuse the art depicted in this movie, which is astonishing in its range, technical accomplishment, and content, with the kind of graffiti usually seen under bridges. What is the relationship between the artist and the art work? This question is as multifaceted as a diamond and just as beautifully and subtly handled, if ultimately unresolved. What is the artist’s responsibility to the audience? In fact, who is the audience for this work? What happens to street art when it is discovered to have economic value to collectors? Who is being conned by whom?

My wife and I both loved it. The scene in which Thierry is interrogated by guards at Disneyland alone is worth the price of admission. It’s playing at the Oriental Theater. See it.

An example of Banksy street art

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel supports arts education

An editorial in today's Journal Sentinel maintains that "tight school budgets must not mean slashing arts and music programs to pay the bills." They got that right! As I said in an earlier post, the creative community should be all over this issue and the larger community needs arts in education for many reasons.

Some of the suggestions in the editorial, such as traveling arts teachers and temporary federal funding, would be band-aids on a serious wound. The goal ought to be full time arts educators in every school. In and of themselves the arts are as fundamental as reading and writing and they also can improve test scores in those areas.

Read "Art and music have a place in education."

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Milwaukee Art Museum Photo Council annual photo review

At its premier annual event the Photography Council of the Milwaukee Art Museum votes to to donate funds for the Museum to acquire one from several candidate prints that  Lisa Hostetler, the curator of photography, has selected for the occasion. There were three candidates at this year’s event, which was held on May 13.

And the winner is…Russian born American artist Anna Shteynshleyger. (If you’ve never heard of her before, I’m there, too.) Her photograph (right), entitled Sukkoth, is a very large (I didn’t get measurements, but I’d guess 4’x5’) archival pigment (inkjet) print. It’s encouraging to see the growing acceptance of inkjet prints by museums of this caliber.

Sukkot is a Jewish holiday observed in the fall and the Sukkoth, which is depicted in the photo, is a temporary shelter that a Jewish family builds next to their house especially for the event. Meals are eaten and prayers recited in the Sukkoth. Hostetler provided this explanation: “For the artist, the image crystallizes her heightened sense of anxiety as she negotiated between the claustrophobic atmosphere in Des Plaines [Illinois] and the daunting prospect of leaving for experiences unknown. Her expert rendering of light and careful composition impel the viewer into her emotional space, one in which the tension between restlessness and trepidation is broadly familiar and decidedly human.”

My personal favorite was the more standard sized (16”x20”?) black and white image, also an inkjet print, by Fredrik Marsh (right). It’s titled Abandoned Apartment, Königsbrücker Strasse and is from a series he did in Dresden, Germany as part of a Guggenheim fellowship. I particularly like how the strong, abstract formal relationships—repeating rectangles, ambiguous spatial relationships—balance with the content of the image. It depicts a moment in time, a particular place, while simultaneously acquiring an archetypal quality of abandonment and decay. The picture within a picture conceit is perfect. It depicts a love of nature in an utterly unnatural setting. Then, because the poster of a lovely mountain scene is torn, it establishes a metaphor for loss. The abandonment of the apartment was preceded by an abandonment of the values the poster represents.

And I am happy to say that, although the Marsh print lost in the voting, MAM acquired it anyway. This has happened at these (cleverly orchestrated) events before. People (like me) join the Photo Council because they love photography and want to enable the acquisition of new work. When a work is not selected by the majority but is liked well enough, individual donors often contribute towards its purchase. The museum ends up with a win-win for its collection.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Theaster Gates at Milwaukee Art Museum inspires debate on Art City

Below is a slightly expanded version of a comment I made on the Art City blog today. The original post, by Rafael Salas, is a review of the small Theaster Gates exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum. You might want to read that and the comments that precede mine before reading this.

I saw the Gates exhibit yesterday. The show is an eclectic mix of widely diverse elements that lacks coherence. The disparate media are bound by the themes of racial identity and inequity, but it takes a determined visitor to discover this. I agree with the comment by MDavidson that parts of it ring hollow. Further, Salas said that "Gates does not shy away from expressing his anger" but I didn't feel any emotion. Like so much academic-oriented art these days, it uses a formulaic, conceptual representation of anger that has been distilled of any real emotional punch.

Having said that, the show does have merit. I’m glad to see it in the museum and I love the collaborative aspect described by Salas, which included free admissions to the museum for collaborators who might not otherwise have attended. Anything that increases the audience for serious art (and this is certainly serious, whatever its flaws) is good. If museums never showed anything but the greatest works of art there wouldn’t be much to go around—or argue about.

Mary Louise Schumacher, who writes Art City, mentioned that the Whitney Biennial has an installation by Theaster Gates. I saw the Biennial in March. The Gates installation there is more formally coherent than the one at MAM. Sadly, it is also easily overlooked. After a saturation tour of a very strong biennial in the main galleries I only discovered the Gates installation after browsing in the museum gift shop and wondering what all of that “stuff” was doing outside in the courtyard. Very few people ventured out. It is visible from outside and above, but is well below ground level and one must down over a parapet to see it. I watched as people wandered by. Most did not look down and if they did they didn’t pay much attention to the work. And that’s not surprising. It doesn’t look like much from above or from inside the shop. One must get close up, wander through its “alleyways” and peer inside his crudely formed wooden structures to experience the work.

Some of the same strategies that MDavidson critiqued so well in his comment apply here. I’ll add one: salvaged materials were “repurposed” for the installation. Collaboration is a key element here, too, and one of Gates’s strengths, I think. The image below is an example of a Gates installation (from the Whitney Museum website) but not the actual biennial piece.

To read more about the biennial installation click on Whitney Biennial.

To read more about the installation in Milwaukee click on MAM.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Picasso sets a new record. The most valuable art?

When someone buys a work of art for $100 million dollars, as happened last week, the value of art is no longer the point of the exercise. The art work in question - in this case a painting by Picasso from 1932 titled “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” (right, see news article) - is no longer being considered for its content, meaning, aesthetic qualities, or even its technical accomplishment. The only remaining factors are its provenance and historical import. It is no longer being looked at as art, but as a commodity. And, as pointed out in a delightul little article in last Sunday’s NY Times, among the reasons why someone might consider such a purchase, besides acquisitiveness and investment, is power.

The art that my children made in elementary school, a few choice pieces of which still grace various spots on my walls (and, yes, the refrigerator!) even after they have graduated from college and moved away, will never be valuable as a commodity—of course. But they are valuable as art. Oh, and they do have power.

The vast majority of the art made in this world will never hang in a museum or be valued in financial terms. But art has power; the power to move people, to inspire them, incite them, to bring them joy or peace.

This time the story is about the Picasso. Before that it was Giacometti, Van Gogh, Monet…. That will go on and on—and up and down as well, as we’ve seen in the past couple years. For most, the exorbitant, even incomprehensible pricing is viewed as a spectator sport, like Nascar racing, or—perhaps a better analogy—like watching a high rolling gambler on a good run. But it’s not about art.

But that’s OK. Enjoy the thrill. We’ll always have the art that matters most.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

AIPAD vs. ArtChicago: Two very different art fairs!

Major museum surveys of contemporary art, like the current Whitney Biennial (through May 30), sit on the artistic landscape the way monumental sculpture sits in a public square, unavoidable and imposing. They aspire to be arbiters of taste, cataloguing contemporary trends and identifying cutting edge new work. (See my earlier blog.) By contrast, art fairs are transient, ephemeral. They show up on a regular schedule, but more like traveling salesmen who are here today, gone tomorrow. However, because the sole purpose of an art fair is to sell art, they may reflect the culture in ways that a museum survey doesn’t.

I managed to see two such art fairs recently and I was struck by their distinctly different personalities: the Association of International Photography Art Dealers (AIPAD) show in New York (March 18-21) and ArtChicago (April 30-May 3). Leaving aside the obvious surface difference—the AIPAD galleries specialize in photography, while the galleries at ArtChicago include a wide range of art media—I found the types of artists represented in each to be nearly the inverse of the other. Blue chip was the name of the game at AIPAD—and the name of the artists generally those I learned as a freshman in an introduction to photography. Small, vintage black and white silver prints ruled the day, vastly outnumbered the large, color work by contemporary photographers. I could have bought this same famous image by Cartier-Bresson at three different galleries (if I didn’t need to pay the mortgage for about a year!)

Most odd, considering the familiarity of the vintage work, was the unfamiliarity of many of the contemporary photographers. If the top names in vintage photography were abundant, why weren’t the top names in contemporary photography? (I suppose if I’d asked that question of one of the dealers, they might have insisted that I simply haven’t kept up with that shifting territory.)

At ArtChicago the opposite prevailed. With a few exceptions, the blue chips and famous names were missing while the vast majority of work was by artists unknown not only to me but to the group of art aficionados with whom I went. Not sure whether it was Chicago vs. New York, painting and sculpture vs. photography, or some less tangible cultural phenomenon. But here’s the monkey wrench: the photography at ArtChicago was more likely to be both contemporary and familiar, like Jeff Wall, Gregory Crewdson, Alec Soth.

The work at AIPAD was remarkably good, and the prices seemed to be defying the gravity of today’s economy. Most of the big names, Kertész, Weston, et. al., went for $30,000 to over $100,000 for 8”x10” prints. The highest price I noticed was for a jewel-like 2¼” square print of this famous Arbus image: $275,000.

The few big names at ArtChicago commanded similar prices. Albers’s 9”x12” Homage to the Square can still be had for a mere $70,000. But since these were the exception, the prices were generally much lower. So, what about the art? I enjoyed both shows very much, but…. Further reflections on this to come. A random sample from the NEXT portion of ArtChicago is below. I hope you’ll check back.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Photography as a healing art

Usually, the main purpose of portrait photography is to make the subject look good. Here is a story about a photographer whose aim is to make the subject feel good. He has chosen subjects that traditionally have been portrayed in a negative fashion, even stigmatized, because of some physical condition or deformity. He treats them - what a revelation! - as human beings, as normal. And it makes them feel good about themselves.

Ths story is called "Using Photography to Create Positive Exposure," from the Healing Arts blog at Psychology Today by Cathy Malchiodi.

I recommend watching the video that's embedded in the article. Rick Guidotti, a trained and experienced fashion photographer, is infectious in his enthusiasm for this project. The one criticism I have of the video is that it shows only subjects who, to me anyway, seem inherently beautiful already. Therefore, it's even more important to visit his website and see the wider variety of subjects he works with as part of the organization he founded called Positive Exposure.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Arts lose in MPS financial woes - as usual!

Dueling editorials in todays' Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describe an impasse in negotiations and varying agendas regarding the budget for MPS. It's sad, but unsurprising, that art and music are once again low on the list of priorities and high on the list of what programs get axed.

Unfortunately, the two editorials (links below) talk past each other without connecting and without acknowledging the other's concerns and valid points.

If arbitration, which is the theme of the MJS editorial, results in fewer teachers overall, and fewer arts teachers in particular, then that is not a reasonable solution.

And while there may be merit to the suggestions Mike Langyel, president of the teachers' union (MTEA), makes regarding federal and state funding sources, he never addresses the issue of health benefits or any need for concessions from the union. I agree with his three major statements about what students deserve - and I especially like his support for the arts and the other programs he singles out for mention. But the union is not doing itself, teachers, children, or education in Milwaukee any favors by taking an immovable stand on this.

Arts advocacy groups, like MARN and the Creative Coalition, struggle to promote the arts in Milwaukee. Their efforts are essential. But we will not have a strong base of support for the arts if we do not have arts education in our schools - all of our schools! Adequate funding for MPS affects the future of the arts in Milwaukee. Make your voices heard on this vital issue.

Read the editorials: Mke Journal Sentinel, Mike Langyel

Then write your letter to the editor.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Public Meeting to view Valley Passage Mural proposals well attended

A good crowd turned out yesterday to view five proposals for the Valley Passage Mural Project, sponsored by the Menomonee Valley Partners, Layton Blvd. West Neighborhoods, and the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail. After public input, combined with input from other stakeholders, the winning proposal will grace the retaining walls of the new Valley Passage. This will open up an historic link at 37th Street between the Silver City neighborhood and the Menomonee Valley. The former tunnel that allowed workers access to jobs in the Valley has been closed for decades. Construction of the new Passage is slated to begin next month and to be completed in September. The murals will then be painted on the concrete approaches and inside the new Passage.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What really matters

"In the end, art doesn't mean anything. What really matters is earning one's living and loving one's neighbors."
Attributed to W.H. Auden by poet Sam Hammill.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Public Meeting - Valley Passage Murals, Menomonee Valley

I'm passing on this message from Menomonee Valley Partners. I've been working with the Arts Committee of the Friends of the Hank Aaron State Trail to help put this together. I hope we get a good crowd. Public art deserves public input.

Public Meeting - Valley Passage Murals

May 5, 2010
6:00 - 7:30 PM
3500 W. National Avenue

The Valley Passage, the bridge that will reconnect the Silver City neighborhood and the Menomonee Valley later this year, will include murals facing 37th and View from 37th and Pierce Streets Pierce Streets, as well
as Canal Street.

Please come to this public meeting to view the mural concepts developed through the Valley Passage Mural Design competition, and give your feedback. All are welcome!


Contact Corey (Menomonee Valley Partners) at 274-4655 or
Jeremy (Layton Boulevard West Neighbors) at 383-9038 ext. 2515 or

Building Momentum

In 2010, project partners will be working on the next phase of the multi-faceted Valley project. Partners are working to complete the Hank Aaron State Trail, including a 5 mile westerly extension, a 25 acre natural area along the Menomonee River and three new pedestrian bridges. The new segments of the Trail will directly serve the more than 415,000 residents that live nearby. When complete, the Trail will serve the top tourist attractions in southeastern Wisconsin and provide bike-to-work options. The next MVP Quarterly eNews will feature the full story, so stay tuned!

See you in the Valley!

Your friends at Menomonee Valley Partners

Concept drawing for proposed bridge connecting the Hank Aaron State Trail with the Valley Passage

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Cartooning Counts as Art: today's pick--Garfield!

Today's post is on the lighter side. I fully intend to write up something about my trip to ArtChicago yesterday. But it's Sunday, I don't have time right now, and today's Garfield is not only funny, but concerns the art of cartooning - or to be more accurate the job of being a cartoonist. (My wife, after 30 years of marriage, still marvels at how much I can laugh at the comics. Of course, not all rise to the occasion every day, but I've always had a low threshhold funny bone.) As for me, I still marvel that, after 30 years of drawing the same few characters in pretty much the same basic story lines, Jim Davis can still make it funny. I hope you agree:

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Designing a 100 Dollar Bill

Is it art? The new design is intended to make the bill harder to counterfeit, a utilitarian function of design. It nevertheless has aesthetic qualities - of course. These pros and cons of the new design are critiqued in the New York Times article "Anatomy of a Benjamin," where I found this image.

I find myself in agreement with their analysis. Among other things, they say that there are aspects of the old bill that work better, such as the size of the border elements and relationship of the numerals to the border. There are also improvements made, such as the removal of the oval and overall balance of the design.

As a teacher of graphic design, I have used the design as a problem for my students. We don't redesign the bill using Ben Franklin, however. I encourage them to be creative and to use someone meaningful to them. They then add other features on both sides of the bill that relate to their subject. Here is an example I made as a demonstration piece for my classes, using Andy Warhol.

I can't claim credit for this idea, however. There is a wonderful program called "Make a Fundred" that has school children all over the US drawing designs for "fundred dollar bills." It isn’t merely a clever design problem, either. It’s an even cleverer way to raise money to “eliminate the devastating effects of lead-contaminated soil that currently places children at risk for severe learning disabilities and behavioral problems.” It was begun years ago, after hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans to help with relief efforts there.

Art that makes a difference. Try designing your own 100 dollar bill. It’s fun. And then send it off to to make a contribution. It won’t even cost you a real $100. (It’s all explained on their website.)