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LUNA, a Milwaukee collective-turned-business, showcases Latinx artists

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Katie Avila Loughmiller
LUNA artists stand over mural painted on the intersection of W Washington St and S 9th St in Milwaukee, Wis.

LUNA, or Latinas United through the Arts, has been carving out space for Latinx artists in Milwaukee’s art scene since 2017.

It’s a collective-turned-business network with more than 30 members that has organized exhibitions, workshops, murals, pop-ups and other community events. Co-founders Katie Avila Loughmiller and Gabriela Riveros started the organization after noticing the lack of Latinx representation in the Milwaukee art world.

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Katie Avila Loughmiller
LUNA co-founder Katie Avila Loughmiller (right) and artist Whitney Salgado (L) sit over a mural called Floración, designed by Salgado and painted on the intersection of W Washington St and S 9th St in Milwaukee, Wis.

There’s no application to be part of the collective but for two criteria: being Latinx and an artist. The group is also geared towards Latinas and non-binary artists.

Avila Loughmiller said a network like LUNA advances the interests of artists in ways they may not be able to accomplish on their own.

First, by working together to create more visibility. “You can ignore individuals, but you can't ignore this whole group,” said Avila Loughmiller. “And museums and art institutions no longer had the excuse to say, ‘Well, I don't know where to find these diverse artists.’”

It also opens the door to all talents and evens the playing field, Avila Loughmiller adds. “I have a master's degree in art but there's also artists in the collective, now network, that are self-taught and don't have any full formal training,” she explained. “That hierarchy went away.”

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Katie Avila Loughmiller
A mural at Lopez Bakery designed by LUNA member and artist Gabriela Riveros.

Avila Loughmiller said more experienced artists have given advice to newer practitioners on issues like displaying works and pricing. “I think this was a big help, just connecting those dots for folks,” she said.

The group's members also have had a lot of conversations about what being Latinx even means. “It's such a monolith of a category, right?” notes Avila Loughmiller. “I'm Colombian, and that is very different than being Mexican or being Puerto Rican. There's similarities and there's things that our cultures share, [and] we've had so many fun conversations about the differences.”

Avila Loughmiller said because LUNA has organized exhibits featuring Latinx artists, set up pop-up exhibitions, and created public art, its artists are able to do more than just “be invited to the table.”

“It's really giving us the leadership positions to say how we want to do something,” she explained. “And you know, every show that we've had did feel really different than shows that we had been in previously, because we were running the show, we were designing it.”

“It was a lot more work, of course, but, it felt like we were in control,” she said.

Avila Loughmiller added that even pre-pandemic and before 2020’s protests against systemic racism, she felt there was a conscious shift towards inclusivity in the art world. She gave a nod to Fanana Banana, a collective of Muslim artists in Milwaukee and the Bronzeville Collective.

“I mean, across industries, we’ve seen the shift of realizing that people are fed up,” she said. “It's not the simple like, ‘Let's do a diversity training and call it a day,’ or ‘Let's again reach out to this one artist once and say, great.’”

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Katie Avila Loughmiller
A mural of lady justice at the Milwaukee County Courthouse called Nuestra Madre Justicia, designed by LUNA artist Lauren Medina.

For instance, on a courthouse mural LUNA was involved with this past summer, Avila Loughmiller met three or four new artists she'd never met before. "I was so excited. And then I was able to hire someone [who] I just met on a new project — then just like that — now their work is out there,” she said.

Avila Loughmiller said that LUNA would like to continue in that direction — finding new talent and shining a spotlight on artists.

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