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Milwaukee Music Venue Gets Creative To Bring In Revenue

Courtesy of Kelsey Kaufmann
With no in-person concerts, Cactus Club has relied on carry-out sales, virtual concerts, and community donations to stay open.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed what we view as normal in a lot of ways. It’s closed bars, restaurants; made us wear cloth coverings on our faces. It’s also put a hush on music and arts venues across Milwaukee. Concerts and big events aren’t conducive to reducing the spread of the coronavirus, and digital programming presents revenue challenges for places like Cactus Club.

Kelsey Kaufmann has been involved in the music and arts scene since she was a kid. She became the owner of Cactus Club in February, right before everything shut down.

Kaufmann talks about what the club and local artists have been doing since the pandemic put a halt on live in-person events. “It feels like such a new weird way to host and organize events but at the same time we’re in a time of experimentation and figuring out what makes sense,” she says.

To earn revenue, the club has been doing" target="_blank">livestreamed shows, set up a Patreon with an archive of old shows and interviews, and even created special carry-out times so that people can purchase beer, coffee, kombucha, popsicles and merchandise at the club. She describes it as her own take on a bodega.

For Kaufmann and other artists, experimentation is what has re­­­­ally been driving their creativity. “At this time, you could do your regular set like you would have done a year ago or if you have this side project, or if you have this tangential idea, what could that look like and how can we have fun with that,” she says.

Even with beverage sales and online donations, Kaufmann says the club is struggling financially. Because she had so recently taken ownership of the business, she says she received no help from the Paycheck Protection Program.  

“The uncertainty has been the hardest part,” says Kaufmann. “What does that mean in terms of how long we can keep this ship afloat, what does that look like in terms of financials, that’s really scary.”

She says that she hasn’t lost hope and tries to see the beauty being created through the chaos.

From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.