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ArtWorks for Milwaukee's Youth Outreach

Nov. 2, 2011
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Since its inception in 2001, ArtWorks for Milwaukee has hired and trained more than 400 youth in a variety of unique arts-based programs. The local nonprofit is hosting its third "Night by the River" benefit 7-10 p.m. Nov. 11 at ManpowerGroup's global headquarters in Downtown Milwaukee. (For more information, visit www.NightbytheRiver.com.)

ArtWorks for Milwaukee mainstays Nicole Graf and Meghan Koven talked about their organization.

ArtWorks for Milwaukee—more "Art," more "Works," or more works of art?

MK: Why do we have to be in a category? I would say we're primarily a workforce development for a high-risk teenage population.

NG: Maybe the art of working—through works of art?

MK: Art is what we do. It's the best way to reach out and engage our diamond-in-the-rough types. They're not doing well in traditional learning environments. They're in situations that most of the time they had nothing to do with: foster kids, disabilities, no one at home pushing them or opening doors. Art opens their world.

Milwaukeeans sometimes treat public art like a public menace. Do you ever feel like a speak-easy during Prohibition?

MK: We get commissions, if you can believe that—though they're mostly privately funded. The Maures Development Group hired us to create 10 8-foot by 4-foot mural panels for the Franklin Square apartment complex (15th and Center). Kids from the Lindsay Heights neighborhood did it. We also did mural work for Harley-Davidson, the Walnut Way neighborhood and the Zoological Society.

NG: An artist guides, instructs and assigns the kids. It's a job, and they are paid for it. If they don't show, they don't get paid.

MK: Without salaries, the experience would not be nearly as robust or authentic

Are jobs in the arts really available in Milwaukee?

NG: Our next program is in graphic design. That's a position that's in high demand. We hired eight kids. But 153 applied! The only thing keeping us from saying yes to more kids is funding.

"Night by the River" sounds like a documentary about the homeless... But it's actually fine drinks from Rehorst and Sprecher and "delectable hors d'oeuvres from Milwaukee's finest restaurants"?

MK: We're not asking anyone to swim in the river or sleep under the bridges.

NG: Especially not that river. This is our third year, all at Manpower HQ Downtown, which is a beautiful facility right on the river—hence the name. We do silent and live auctions: ArtWorks interns' artwork, wine tastings, boat tours, yoga and rock climbing, theater performances, sky diving, hotel stays, resorts, giant bags of coffee...and a trip for two to Las Vegas.

If people can't attend, can they still support ArtWorks?

NG: We're always looking for volunteers. We have several committees that need people. And, of course, we're never going to say no to a donation. Please visit our website (www.artworksformilwaukee.org).


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