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Virtual Art Experiences Reach More Wisconsinites But Aren't As Lucrative For Artists

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President of the United Performing Arts Fund Patrick Rath says the group's partners have reached over 90,000 Wisconsin households this year with some form of virtual programming.

While many businesses have adapted to a new normal during the pandemic, arts and music venues have continued to struggle.

Many performing artists count on a packed audience to make ends meet. The pandemic halted all of that and artists have had to pivot to more virtual, and often less lucrative experiences. 

Patrick Rath is the President and CEO of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF). He says despite the decrease in revenue, artists all over Wisconsin are still working and many are bringing art virtually to people that would have never had access before the pandemic.

He points to programs like First Stage’s theater in education program which now can reach students all across Wisconsin instead of just those who could get to downtown Milwaukee.

“We’ve had almost 90,000 households that have had some type of virtual learning activity thanks to the member groups of the United Performing Arts Fund,” says Rath.

Still, operating these programs at a loss is not a sustainable business model. Most have had to rely on canceling future contracts with artists and receiving contributions from supporters.

“They’re all doing the right things to ensure that the arts are accessible but at the same time we need that support to carry us through this time,” he says.

As venues plan for a return to safe, in-person events some time in the future, Rath says virtual programming is likely to stick around. 

"We want to welcome people back but at the same time, I do believe there are going to be virtual offerings in the future because again we found that there are so many individuals that just, again, those barriers and to be able to have access we want to open that up," he says. 

Rath says the best thing to do right now continue to support your favorite local artists and follow UPAF's work in keeping the arts in Wisconsin. 

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Jack Hurbanis started as the WUWM Digital Intern in January 2020, transitioning to Assistant Digital Producer in July.