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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Creating Something Bigger than Ourselves

Recently Waukesha, WI was named by Money Magazine, one of the top 50 small cities in America. Listed high on the reasons it made the grade was its Art Crawls. I happen to be one of the many who promote the art crawls and its artists in the historic downtown area. We've been on a mission to keep Waukesha connected to important art advocates and believers in the creative economy. We've worked hard to generate support from our business and government leaders. We've given our heart and soul to something bigger than any one person. It is am amazing thing to see fruits of our labors flourish. To all who work so hard to create beautiful art, build amazing galleries, encourage both emerging and established artists, you have earned this. Congrats to all of the West End Artists and it's business partners who make Waukesha an true Art Destination!

How can the arts drive a community and it's economy? Why is Waukesha enjoying a renaissance while similar downtown areas struggle? Waukesha is home to over 125 local artists. There are over 20 galleries and studios in a one mile radius. How can "starving" artists feed a the financial health of a city? The answers are simple. The arts work from the ground up. They attract youth, diversity of culture and thought and people dedicated to community. The arts encourage out-of-the-box problem solving and innovation.The arts are driven by creative, educated workers and volunteers. Finally, the arts are infused with the very elements that define a genuine quality of life.

While these elements seem intangible they can be quantified. When business seeks a location on which to draw both employee and clientel, they gravitate towards cities rich in culture just because of the very nature of creative, cultural citizens. When artists create events, such as art walks or crawls, art fairs or gallery nights, people come by the thousands. When small business needs foot traffic, they look for cities with such events. When thousands flock, sometimes for the first time to a culturally rich community, they find entertainment, community pride, diverse businesses and they feel like staying. Walkable communities that include great food, galleries, boutique shops and entertainment make it easy for people to stop driving, use less resources, and often become involved. The reasons go on an on. The arts create authentic communities.

The top 50 standing all began with the dream of a single artist, Jeff Seymour. He opened a gallery in a small city with big problems. The streets were hard to navigate, drugs and crime took over the sidewalks at night, and the many deserted businesses did not inspire anyone to work or play. One by one more artists came and moved into the vacant storefronts. Lynn Gaffey joined Jeff's cause and 10 years later the arts in Waukesha are bigger than anyone could have imagined. Perhaps that seems like too long to wait for your struggling community. Well, change begins one step at a time. I came in 7 years ago and the evidence of success had already been established in those first 3 years. Add the support of the local business community, friendly media outlets such as the Freeman and the Journal's Waukesha division and things really started happening. That drew more emerging artists with tons of energy along with the drawing power of established artists like Chuck Weber and there is no stopping the power of art.

The West End Artists aren't finished. Our goal is to hit the top 10 in this and other standings. We are self funded and our organization is run by volunteers. Artists bear the brunt of the financial cost of the Art Crawls but receive a mere 10% of it's proceeds. Business are stepping up to sponsor crawls but we need more. We need the city to stop talking about what they do for the arts and start putting their wallet where their mouths are. At this time funding is offered with too many strings and requirements that cloud the vision and defeat the purpose of an established schedule of events. We have gained steam but lost sponsorships. It is our hope that the reasons we were chosen as a great city will validate our efforts and bring the support we seek.

We would love to become a model for the creative economy. We invite other city organizations and cultural groups to come and see what we have to offer. Nothing would make us happier than to see other small cities build on it's creative workforce. We invite business to learn how supporting the arts can enhance their marketing efforts. We encourage other artists to sit in on our meetings every month. We invite city leaders to talk to our gallery owners and artists staff and ask us what we need to grow. Even with all we have, we know we can be so much more. Each one of us is simply an individual with a dream. Together, we are unstoppable!

I will be speaking at the Waukesha County Museum during the Marc Sijan Exhibit. July 29th from 6:30 to 7:30. The title of my talk is “Art’s Impact: How the Arts Shape Individuals, Communities, and the Economy.” (Views on art and the world from a very human perspective.)

For more info on the West End Artists go to Money Magazine's top 100 small cities article is at Chuck Weber's work can be found at Lynn Gaffey's Almont Gallery can be found at

The next Waukesha West End Artists ART Crawl is on August 7th. Come and see what we are all about!

1 comment:

  1. Ahhh...great blog! You have great things to say! I've tried to share the same message in my poor little city. Art definitely transforms an atmosphere. We are starting to see many abstract sculptures go up around's exciting.
    I'm adding your blog to my roll to share you with my readers! Thanks for sharing your passion!