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A Large-Scale, Not-For-Profit Arts Co-op?

A conversation with Cooperative Performance Milwaukee’s Neal Easterling

Apr. 15, 2013
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Cooperative Performance Milwaukee (CPM) is a new type of arts organization. Utilizing a traditional co-op model, its endeavors are democratically controlled by both member artists and audience. Off the Cuff spoke with founding member Neal Easterling about community mindedness, arts incarnations and 3D music modeling. 


How does CPM differ from other arts organizations and other co-ops?

Unlike most arts groups, we are not a pure not-for-profit. We give the community voting ownership—totally unprecedented. We also focus on research, development and innovation, much like an R&D firm. We differ from other co-ops in focus. Interestingly enough, CPM is only the second not-for-profit cooperative in Wisconsin. The other is a housing co-op. 


How does it work? 

Our members develop ideas for performance-based works. The board of directors (12 working reps, eight patron reps and a C.O.O.) selects as many projects as possible from the suggestions.  The number will depend largely on available resources. The board also provides direct feedback to determine whether pieces are ready for the general public or require further development.  


Has anything been done like this before?

Art co-ops are out there. But most are like three friends with a theater company, who are the only members. Arts collectives are pretty standard, too. Traditionally, they are comprised of artists connecting to maximize space, tools, marketing—essentially individuals sharing resources. But CPM is individuals coming together to set the mission of one producing organization. It’s a small distinction, but an important one. So, while there are elements out there, there are not exact models. We are doing something new here. 


The current board is heavy on performing arts backgrounds. What roles will visual arts and music play?

We are extremely interested in all arts incarnations. If you think about it, performing arts can be defined simply as a performer in front of an audience. Under that definition, almost anything can be performing arts. 


How many people are currently involved?

We have seven founding members and another dozen training and creating. We’re looking forward to adding more, though. Hence, the April 29 kick-off celebration. 


What can people expect from the Inaugural Celebration? 

Oh boy. A lot: short experimental performances, dance theater and shadow puppetry; also, a 3D space-mapping program that turns movement into music.  

Officially, it’s an introduction to the community and a membership kick-off. Founding members will be on hand, talking about structure and directives, and vision and all that. It will be at the Hot Water Wherehouse Nightclub (818 S. Water St.) on Monday, April 29, from 7-10 p.m. Admission is free, though donations are welcome. If you want to attend, please RSVP to neasterling@cooperformke.com.


Where and how can people find out more?

Visit cooperformke.com. We’re on Facebook too at facebook.com/cooperformke.


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