Milwaukee Artists Go Digital To Continue Making A Living

May 7, 2020

Milwaukee artists are some of the people most affected by the coronavirus pandemic. With galleries and performance venues closed, there aren't many places where art can be shared. But, as with all unusual circumstances, they can count on their creativity to get by.

David Lee, the CEO of Imagine MKE, and Deanna Tillisch, the president and CEO of the United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF), talk about the financial and creative hurdles local artists have had to overcome:

"The bills keep on coming due. It's really important for artists and creatives to be able to have [unemployment] resources so they don't fall behind in this time when they can't perform or can't work," says Lee.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act passed by Congress has helped some — it allows independent contractors to recieve benefits they would not qualify for under past circumstances. Also, organizations like Imagine MKE have set up grant applications to help bridge the financial gap for those artists. 

Wisconsin ranks last among all states in per capita arts funding, making organizations like UPAF and Imagine MKE even more important to Milwaukee's art world. UPAF supports organizations like First Stage Theater, Milwaukee Ballet, and the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which have all taken a large financial hit.

Tillisch says, "[The 14 groups supported by UPAF] are projecting an $8.3 million loss in revenue and that's pretty frightening for them."

But this doesn't mean that artists aren't working to find ways to deliver their art in new, pandemic-safe ways.

"We hosted a virtual gallery night earlier in April. That was really an opportunity to keep the tradition of Milwaukee gallery night going," says Lee. It was also an opportunity for artists to sell their work, with pieces being shipped in just a week. 

Both UPAF and Imagine MKE are continuing to use digital platforms to showcase artists and help them raise money. UPAF is holding a virtual event Thursday night from 7 to 9 that features livestream performances on its Facebook.