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A special series by WUWM's Maayan Silver. Maayan's stories air each Tuesday, beginning September 21, during Morning Edition 6:45 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

Milwaukee artist says be patient — creativity will come, amid pandemic

Katie Avila Loughmiller
Nicole Acosta
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Katie Avila Loughmiller

When much of life came to a halt because of the coronavirus pandemic, artists of all types faced some of the biggest consequences.

Theaters shuttered along with music venues, festivals, galleries and museums. And while some artists are masters at working and producing art in solitude, others rely on collaboration.

Katie Avila Loughmiller, an artist who runs several collectives around the Milwaukee area, reflected on how to move forward artistically in a pandemic.

Avila Loughmiller has a Masters of Fine Arts in art and social practice. She organizes artists into collectives, or business networks, and plans exhibits, pop-ups, community events and other public art.

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“I'm always like stumped on...'what is my medium?’ And it really ranges, like I have a performance background. So, I perform, and I write, and I dabble in film a bit. But I really think I'm a storyteller,” she said.

Avila Loughmiller said the pandemic shutdown was hard, especially because so much of her work is community based. “There was so much unknown, and so many projects were getting canceled,” she said.

“There was a lot of things on the horizon that I was excited about, and [then I received] email after email being like, ‘okay, we're not sure what's going to happen,’ or ‘this is not going to happen, we'll email you later when it can,’ and, you know, those new emails never came,” Avila Loughmiller said.

But she said she was financially in a position of privilege in those early days of the pandemic while teaching classes at UW-Milwaukee. And because of the pandemic, she wasn’t spending much.

“Although I had all the other anxieties, that [having a job] really made me be particular about what I said yes and no to — even on virtual stuff. After that two or three-month period of doing nothing there was this like a pickup of like, okay, everyone's gonna have a virtual conference or a virtual event or a virtual thing. And I just was like, ‘you know what, I don't need to say yes to all these things,’” she said.

Avila Loughmiller said because of the constant hustling before the pandemic, she had been over-committed and was working at an unsustainable pace. Now, she’s trying to be mindful of that.

“I have bouts of being successful and unsuccessful with that still, but I'm just being more conscious,” she said. “How to prevent burnout is so much more present in my mind. And that definitely was a silver lining and a gift that I got in this awful pandemic. That was such a good thing that came out of it.”

Avila Loughmiller has had one consistent creative outlet. A show with two of her friends, siblings Mikal and Anjail Floyd-Pruitt, on Riverwest Radio, that went from running twice a month to every week.

“The radio show’s called, 'We Heard We're Funny,’” said Avila Loughmiller. “It's just us trying to be funny. There was a good eight weeks where it was not funny and it was just us processing everything that was going on.”

But she realized she really needed the show and it helped her get through hard times. “Sometimes I was like, ‘well I haven't done anything creative, but at least I had my radio show on Wednesday!’” Avila Loughmiller said laughing.

Avila Loughmiller does have wisdom to impart to other creatives, which is being patient with yourself. “I think everyone handled this differently,” she said. “And I think all of it is valuable. And if you get to write that awesome chat book that you've been meaning to write, or you get to knock out that series of paintings you were gonna do, cool, but let it be because you want to do it, and not because you feel like being productive.”

She said she’s learned that more authentic work comes from a well-rested person who doesn’t feel like they’re trying to meet metrics and goals.

Maayan Silver has been a reporter with WUWM’s News Team since 2018.
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