Off the Beaten Path
Milwaukee’s small galleries
Evans lists a variety of reasons for this, but puts most of it down to business failure. “Brooks [Barrow] was here right before he shut down, and I don’t think he sold five paintings,” Evans says. “It’s hard to keep going when you’re not making any money.”
It’s also hard to attract artists to
A Labor of Love
That reputation is a problem for
It’s not necessarily all doom and gloom, though. There are always new people willing to give it a go. The Armoury Gallery in Brewers Hill is one such place. Owners Cassandra Smith and Jessica Steeber are functioning artists who both work full-time day jobs and run the gallery on the side. Thanks to their smarts and organization, their published schedule of local and national artists is full into next year. But it’s a labor of love; they don’t really expect to make money.
“I think we’ve been successful at getting people excited about what we’re doing,” Smith says. “Our opening was huge; we had a ton of people here. But we didn’t sell anything. At this point we have to decide what’s more important: making money or getting people excited. For us, it’s getting people excited.”
Faythe Levine and Kim Kisiolek, co-owners of Paper Boat Gallery & Boutique in Bay View, also supplement their business. “We still both work full-time jobs outside of Paper Boat, but have managed to delicately balance our work schedules while building our reputation and clientele to fulfill our commitment to ourselves and the local art community,” Levine says.
Paper Boat has another source of revenue, too: the
boutique. “The retail side of Paper Boat is what literally keeps it afloat,”
Levine says. “However, we do tend to always sell work from each art show. My
hope is that
Part of that hope lies in the efforts these galleries are making to bring attention to their spaces and artists. Starting with the July Gallery Night, a handful of these galleries have banded together to create awareness and offer an alternative map, hoping to direct people off the beaten path to their spaces. Called the Milwaukee Independent Gallery Association (MIGA), the effort is spearheaded by Smith and Steeber, and includes nine galleries at present: Armoury Gallery, Borg Ward, Fasten Collective, Green Gallery, JW Lawson Fine Art, White Whale Collective, Spackle Gallery, the Portrait Society, and Paper Boat.
It’s easy to blame
“Every other gallery about the same size that we’ve talked to in any other city, it’s the same thing,” Evans says.
Brenner agrees: “There are certainly a handful of cities where an art gallery has a better chance of surviving, but nationwide it seems that art galleries are either a tax write-off, an expensive hobby or run by the independently wealthy.”
With that in mind, maybe there’s hope for
“It would be fun to give
As for Brenner, he says he’ll never open another gallery. “Even if some rich uncle I didn't know about died and left me a huge pot of money, I couldn't take anymore of the heartbreak of sitting in my gallery day after day waiting for people to show up,” he says.Check out the MIGA Gallery Night map and events at migaonline.com.