Editor’s note: The following piece, covering a 10-year period in Milwaukee’s alternative art scene, originally appeared as an accompanying essay for the 2013 “Milwaukeeists: 1996-2006” exhibition at the Lawton Gallery at the University of Wisconsin – Green Bay. Milwaukee Record is proud to present it online for the first time, in its original 2013 form, with minor updates.

Back then, everyone was involved in everything. In the Milwaukee artistic milieu of the late-1990s, people opened venues and showed and performed in them, populated each other’s bands and film casts and crews, and through sheer will and good fortune, drew unexpected attention from outside. Many practitioners were generally unqualified to do what they were doing, but who cared? That was far from the point. Artists of all kinds were hard at work, and several met with success. Most surprising, rather than the usual “brain drain” situation—in which talented, imaginative and ambitious people regularly leave Milwaukee for the much better prospects (jobs, money, connections) elsewhere—suddenly the flow was reversed. For many reasons, artists from elsewhere began relocating here. Milwaukee became a destination for those seeking a different path than that offered by the cultural centers. The effects of this period, roughly 1996-2006, last into today.

But what is it about Milwaukee? When traversing the various locales of the international art world, mention of our city elicits not only recognition but awareness of some special quality. Repetition of this notion in the national press by prominent artists, curators and critics like Michelle Grabner, Matthew Higgs and Laura Owens adds to the homespun mystique that Milwaukee has created for itself.[1] But, fair to ask, what qualities make it stand out from the many other active “local” scenes? Is Milwaukee any different from, say, the comparably-sized Louisville, Tucson, Fresno, or Raleigh in the work it produces or the attention it receives? Is it a version of what’s occurred in Portland, Providence, and Winnipeg? If so, it takes its place amidst a broader phenomenon of cultural shift towards the margins.

During this period, several Milwaukee filmmakers were featured in screenings and solo film retrospectives at the Museum of Modern Art (Cecelia Condit, Cathy Cook, Chris Smith, Stephanie Barber, Jennifer Montgomery, Xav Leplae). The Chris Smith/Sarah Price-directed American Movie won the U.S. Grand Jury documentary prize at Sundance. The artist collective Milhaus was written up in The New York Times. Performance poet Matt Cook made his reputation on the national “poetry slam” circuit, then did a Nike commercial for the 1998 Winter Olympics. The Hermetic Gallery received some notable press attention and INOVA established itself as one of the nation’s primary contemporary art venues. Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam organized “Bicycle Thieves,” a multi-city exhibition bringing top Scandinavian artists to venues across Chicago and Milwaukee. Smith’s ZeroTV and its cohort (brothers Tyson and Scott Reeder among them) figured prominently in discussion about what made Milwaukee interesting, and venues like General Store, Darling Hall and Bamboo Theater routinely exploded expectations about what was possible here. The Milwaukee International art fair brought major galleries from New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Winnipeg, Puerto Rico, Tokyo, Beijing, Havana and Zurich to the old Polish Falcons beer hall in the working class/hippie/artist/punk Riverwest neighborhood. In short, even a city as large and powerful as Chicago complained regularly about not receiving enough money or critical attention from the coastal cultural centers, but in Milwaukee artists and venues garnered attention worthy of any cultural capital.

Bamboo Theater "Soup & Cinema," postcard front, c. 2002. Collection of Peter Barrickman

Bamboo Theater “Soup & Cinema,” postcard front, c. 2002. Collection of Peter Barrickman

What is a “Milwaukeeist?” If one quality set this particular group of artists and venue-makers apart, it was seeing various lacks common to mid-sized, off-center cities for their positive potential. Not enough places to show or perform? Well, open one yourself! It was clear no one was going to do it for us. There wasn’t enough money in town to flow beyond the bigger institutions, and the city’s funders weren’t interested in homespun experimentation. All this only took the pressure off. Not much was at stake, but we who made the work readily admitted this, and saw it not as an obstacle but as freedom from the normal pressures of success and failure. We could readily embrace our sense of marginalization and turn it into fool’s gold, shifting the definitions of value.

Theresa Columbus moved to Milwaukee from New Orleans in 1995. She wrote, directed and performed in her own plays, infused with Steinian word-tangles and giddy ruminations on emotional complexities. In 2001 she opened Darling Hall as a venue for herself and a growing troupe of performance-oriented artists. Her sporadic “Tingle Showcase” talent show took advantage of the multi-disciplinary attributes of so many Milwaukeeans, creating free-wheeling antic play between musicians, painters, poets, performers, filmmakers, venue-creators, and people just looking to contribute their creative energies in less defined ways. Columbus’s approach was to mix refinement with rawness, inviting experienced performers to share the stage with novices like José the Barber, from just down 6th Street, who seemed delighted to expand beyond his usual audience of regular customers. The debut performance of Samwell’s song “What What In The Butt” occurred here, the precursor to a video produced by Bobby Ciraldo and Andrew Swant that would eventually attract over 50 million YouTube views. Columbus’s peculiarly charming influence maintained in everything that occurred on her stage, infused with a sense of deliberately clumsy wit, farcical whimsy, and overturned expectations. Most of the audience also participated in the production in one way or other, a common quality of smallish scenes noted by Laura Owens in her recent Artforum interview:[2]

I did an interview a long time ago with the filmmaker Chris Smith, and one of the questions I asked him, when he was working on his first film, American Job [1996], was what it meant for the producers of the film to be the audience for the film as well. There was this idea in Milwaukee, where he was filming, that you just do it—you make the film regardless of distribution because the main audience will be the producers themselves. I’ve been thinking about that for a long time.

Owens romanticizes the notion that we are satisfied knowing no one but us will see our work, though her citing of the contemporaneous Nike dictum “just do it” rings true—that it’s no reason to not make the work because you are probably your only audience. Reaching beyond small social circles can prove difficult when interchange with the larger culture is so limited by geography, money, power and critical perception. But what the Milwaukeeists shared was an import/export sensibility, a motivation to break through localized boundaries in search of wider audiences and meaningful dialogue that included perspectives from beyond the group.

Theresa Columbus in her "office" on the Darling Hall Stage, c. 2003. © Peter Barrickman

Theresa Columbus in her “office” on the Darling Hall Stage, c. 2003. © Peter Barrickman

In 1996, a group of Milwaukeeans led a filmmaking trip to Turkey, out of which eventually emerged The Foreigners, a feature-length black-and-white film produced by and starring Xav and Didier Leplae, Peter Barrickman, Kiki Anderson, Kirsten Stoltmann, Brent Goodsell, Doug Schall and the denizens of the town of Goreme (including the mayor). The film would not reach the levels of exposure enjoyed by Smith, Price, Montgomery, and even Xav Leplae’s later film work, but demonstrated equal commitment and ambition. The Foreigners was not so much a politically- or socially-engaged act, but a statement of its makers’ position as happily bewildered explorers setting foot into a daunting and complex world. I saw it as a mirror of our condition, a way to see ourselves at work.

Filmmaker Stephanie Barber (a native New Yorker who relocated to Milwaukee from New Orleans in 1995) opened the Bamboo Theater (1997-2005), to create a venue for experimental film and video outside the university system, its usual home. Barber adapted the punk-house model, offering attentive audiences and a place to crash to touring filmmakers, run on a domestic budget. Among many luminaries,[3] Barber brought in Miranda July, back when she toured her Big Miss Moviola project around the country, seeking to support “lady filmmakers” through a DIY videotape-exchange network. The Bamboo was a brick-and-mortar version of July’s project, initiated to connect experimentalists who might otherwise labor on in geographical and artistic seclusion, lacking the reactive dialogue artists require to mature in their work.

Milwaukee’s artists were hard at work, but importantly, people were having fun. David Robbins, an area native who returned after twenty-five years in New York, Europe and Chicago, recognized the change here and found it an acceptable backdrop for his “High Entertainment” concepts, producing The Ice Cream Social television pilot (2003) (commissioned by the Sundance Channel’s TV lab), populated with local talent. The thought seemed to be if we won’t be taken seriously anyway, why be serious? Scott Reeder’s “American Dick” paintings [first shown at his Nohl Show exhibition in 2006] skewered Americans’ inflated self-regard, while poking fun at similar qualities in the art world—its maleness, its over-seriousness. Conversely, Jennifer Montgomery’s Threads Of Belonging (2003) seems dead-serious on its surface, a pseudo-documentary of a group home based on the anti-psychiatry movement of R. D. Laing. But seen in its social context, its “inmates running the asylum”-theme—where doctors question the fundamental precept that their supposed expertise should allow judgment on others—reflects a knowing rebuttal of standard models of authority.

Kirsten Stoltmann embodied this scene’s overall silly-to-serious maturation. Influenced by Sadie Benning (whose experimental-filmmaker father James Benning periodically taught at UW-Milwaukee), Stoltmann started out making contemplative, self-reflexive student work, while playing a role in the campy, madcap George Kuchar epic Motivation Of The Carcasoids (Kuchar also made several visits to the school). Stoltmann went on to graduate school in Chicago, and refined her sense that philosophically dour self-regard can be ridiculous and real at once. Her 2000 Hermetic Gallery “I’m Forever” exhibition sent up the idea of self-celebrity in multiple media: a music video, a dramatic panoramic photograph of herself by the lakeshore, and the format of the “solo show” itself as an overt aggrandizement. Stoltmann merged the serious and the silly in a confident but despondent play for attention.

The “Milwaukeeist” moment did not occur in a vacuum. Inspiration for independent venues abounded nearby. Up in Manitowoc, of all places, a localized scene thrived: Julie Lindemann and John Shimon were the Warhols of the Upper Midwest, and the Neo-Post-Now Gallery (1992–97) their Factory. A whole cadre of punk kids, skaters, folk artists and naïf strivers collected around them and occasionally made forays into Milwaukee’s underground scene, which, too, had its version of local hipsters—most prominently Bob Watt and Jimmy von Milwaukee, the shady éminence grise who ran a regular X-rated Christmas art show in his suspect Leo Feldman Gallery. But to appearances, these folks didn’t seek much attention from the art world outside the city’s boundaries. Equally influential was the thriving apartment gallery scene in Chicago—mostly former students impatient with the slow pace of absorption into the city’s art infrastructure—and the longstanding non-profits N.A.M.E. and Randolph St. Gallery, which though on their last legs still produced high-quality shows of brilliant young artists. Four Chicago galleries collectively known as the Uncomfortable Spaces provided an alternative commercial model to the higher-end galleries that defined what a Midwestern “contemporary art scene” was at the time.

Even on the more official/institutional side of things, the same “We don’t have one of those here? Let’s invent it” ethic prevailed, in the teachers, mentors and predecessors of the period in question. Dick Blau and Bob Nelson created the UWM Film Department in 1979, and shepherded it along towards its current status as one of the top film programs in the country, through their resolute focus on experimental work. Blau and his cohort also made mischief in the zone of performance art, bringing their work to Milwaukee’s cable-access channel, and conspired to lure stalwarts of the scene (George and Mike Kuchar, Benning, many others) to work with students. Polly Morris founded Danceworks with Mary Newton in 1992 to connect the local dance scene with dancemaking from around the country, and later created the stakes-raising Nohl Fellowship program, in part because a stable funding source for individual visual artists did not exist here.[4] In 1996, under the auspices of UW-Milwaukee’s School of the Arts, Peter Doroshenko and Marilu Knode invented and ran INOVA, still Milwaukee’s only dedicated international contemporary art center. At the Milwaukee Art Museum, former director Russell Bowman and chief curator Dean Sobel brought many exhibitions of note, including the landmark “Warhol-Bueys-Polke,” “25 Americans,” “Jackie Winsor” and “Agnes Martin.” The institutional ethic of these founders was to connect to the world outside Milwaukee, even as the city itself seemed to want to seal itself off from the cultural change surrounding it.

This overall combination of already-present zany spontaneity and an influx of conceptual sophistication might account for the Milwaukeeist peculiarity.

Brent Goodsell & Didier Leplae editing "The Foreigners," c. 1999. © Peter Barrickman

Brent Goodsell & Didier Leplae editing “The Foreigners,” c. 1999. © Peter Barrickman

There]s danger in thinking one’s own moment primary above others. The dusts of the past give clear evidence that Milwaukee apparently had once already enjoyed a similar local-culture heyday. The incredible, gossamer Eva Hesse sculpture “Right After” (1969) came from somewhere, after all—curator Jack Taylor brought her and Sol LeWitt to Milwaukee very early in their careers to do major shows. Blau was at the center of many things, including (with Tom Bamberger, Ken Hanson, Julie Tarney, Steve Close and others) Perihelion, an artist-run space akin to the 1970s-era Randolph St. Gallery in Chicago and 1960s-era Park Place Gallery in New York. Bamberger would become one of Milwaukee’s most vocal champions, in his capacity as MAM photography curator, and in co-creating (with Blau) Art Futures, a state-funded fellowship program that gave substantial awards to local artists for the first time since the NEA grants had met their doom. The stalwart Woodland Pattern Book Center, established in 1979, brought in progressive writers from around the continent, produced improvisational music shows and hosted art exhibitions, all while sourcing hard-to-find independent-press literature before the age of internet bookselling. Woodland Pattern would continue to prove influential in the ’90s, with Stacy Szymaszek attracting new writing talent and Carl Bogner programming Experimental Tuesdays film nights. Walker’s Point Center for the Arts mostly focused on its membership and neighborhood missions, while acting as a much-need venue for experimentation (e.g. a 2001 Blau-organized film/video/performance fest). WPCA operated as a traditional non-profit, with board and fundraising, a model eschewed by underground venue-makers, but nevertheless lent a crucial image of accessibility to the idea of running a space.

The early-1990s Metropolitan Gallery, run by Kent and Linda Mueller with Ellen Straw, provided the inspiration for my own Hermetic Gallery, but unfortunately did so by closing, that saddest but common result of barely-sustainable ventures. Once the Metropolitan was gone, not only did my own prospects for showing in town as an artist dim considerably, but all the friends I knew who were making interesting attempts at art had no place to try them out publicly. I might not have had the fortitude to open my own space without the sheer necessity of having lost what I saw as the last available venue for experimental visual art in the city.[5]

What all this clearly showed us was that we ourselves not only could, but had to invent the venues that would support us. Lacking local models, we were free to imagine what Milwaukee was missing and provide it. This became a place where many individuals, some native and some from outside, determined in a fairly personal way how they were going to create the life they wanted in Milwaukee. The work and venues they made were characterized by the chain of circumstances that led or kept them here, and the conditions at play around themselves and their work.

For my Hermetic Gallery (1993–2001), it was the ridiculousness of an MWMWM-style austere and formal conceptual art gallery in an environment largely hostile to the last 100 years of art history that proved a worthy challenge.[6] The deliberately uncategorizable venue that came to be called Pumpkin World emerged from some unknown model (or out of the ether of Xav Leplae’s imagination) first as a showcase for his father Luc’s framed comics (along with Wisconsin-farmed pumpkins for resale, strewn about the painted concrete floor, hence the name), then evolved into a shop for experimental filmmakers (the state’s only such venue, then or since). Barber’s Bamboo Theater was a purposefully non-institutional venue for underground film and video, and her and Kristie Reinders’ Outdoor Experimental Film Festival (1996-2001) brought a poetic, elusive and effusive style of work to a much broader audience.[7] Staged in a gazeboed park on the Milwaukee River smack in the middle of downtown, the festival regularly drew hundreds of people, including family picnickers and curious passersby who likely had not seen such film works before. Paul Druecke started Art-Street-Window, an innovative project to convert a downtown riddled with empty business spaces into a venue for public art. An out-of-towner, Faythe Levine, would settle here and open her first of a string of venues, the Flying Fish gallery in Riverwest (more recent was Sky High gallery in Bay View, which she managed while traveling the world to promote her craft documentary projects). Kiki and Mali Andersen ran the Jody Monroe Gallery in the Center Street building that would become the next generation’s hub of activity. The idea of do-it-yourself venue-making was an important step in Milwaukee’s cultural maturation. At the height of this period, we enjoyed more venues for young artists than at any point in recent memory.

An early shot of Xav Leplae's "Pumpkin World" under construction, c. 1998, in the old Hermetic Gallery location. © Peter Barrickman

An early shot of Xav Leplae’s “Pumpkin World” under construction, c. 1998, in the old Hermetic Gallery location. © Peter Barrickman

Alas, a lot of this vital action has “gone the way of all things” (to quote one of Matt Cook’s favorite phrases). And like these precursors, it’s personally alarming to think what of the “Milwaukeeists” period might be lost to memory or historical neglect. But this essay is not intended as an act of nostalgia. Rather, its purpose is to recognize what happened and trace its influence in similar and related activity today. Clear echoes of these activities are visible in younger generations. John Riepenhoff, who established an underground gallery (far above ground, in the attic of a three-story rental triplex in Riverwest) while still an undergraduate student at UW-Milwaukee, has been at the center of much of this activity. Riepenhoff’s Green Gallery ambitions would grow steadily, and incorporate homages to his forebears, like Movies & Masala night, a revival of Barber & Leplae’s open-format Soup & Cinema.[8] A cohort of MIAD-affiliated artists designed the Rust Spot to coincide with Milwaukee’s quarterly Gallery Night, showing experimental work in juxtaposition to what was then on view in most of the commercial galleries. Levine established the bustling annual downtown Art vs. Craft fairs. In 2006 the Milwaukee International art fair joined generations in an all-out effort to genuinely mingle the Milwaukee and international contemporary art scenes, in the very neighborhood—modest as it is—in which most of us came up and still resided.

Recent and current efforts reflect the ambient influence: Ashley Janke’s nAbr gallery (the name means “not a bedroom” and refers to its attic location above her own apartment); Sara Caron and Brad Fischer’s Small Space on Holton Street, American Fantasy Classics and CENTER on Center St. in the building Riepenhoff had established as the hub of the new cultural activity in town, at least in this particular sector; and the Imagination Giants project of Tim Stoelting, Lara Ohland and Janke. These are only the Riverwest venues, several of which received more attention for going away than for being there (the fire of July 17, 2012 destroyed a total of five venues and the homes and studios of 20 young artists, the only such hive in the city).

The Milwaukee art scene is now perhaps more dispersed than ever. In Bay View, Keith Nelson has established a consistent studio rental space for artists, with a connected gallery called Usable Space. In the Third Ward, temporary venues take advantage of gallery night crowds, and Deb Brehmer has steadfastly made her Portrait Society the inclusive centerpoint of that zone. In the Harambee neighborhood just west of Riverwest, Evelyn Terry opened the Terry McCormick Gallery in part to keep the memory of George McCormick alive, while offering a necessary venue to many of the city’s black artists. Cynthia Henry opened Ayzha Fine Arts in the old Grand Avenue Mall downtown. The annual Nohl Show has kept the work of the best mature and emerging artists visible,[9] and the Haggerty Museum of Art, under its former director, jumped aboard the bandwagon with its annual “Current Tendencies” exhibition featuring Wisconsin artists. For three short years, Sara Krajewski (who also once curated at the Madison Art Center), maintained INOVA’s vitality and central position as Milwaukee’s only dedicated institutional exhibitor of international contemporary art. INOVA, alas, struggles to stay alive and relevant, having recently lost its director and direction. The Lynden Sculpture Garden shows a mix of local, regional, national and international visual and dance artists amidst the backdrop of the large-scale outdoor sculpture collection. Much recent activity has sought to cross the various cultural boundaries in Milwaukee, using social action and public practice modes: Makeal Flammini, Ella Dwyer, and Jes Myszka’s occasional Parachute Project mixed North, West and East siders (these terms are generally used as codes for the city’s racial and economic divisions) with artists from outside the city, and the Riverwest 24 bicycle race, a 24-hour jaunt that joins hundreds of Milwaukeeans and beyonders who make the neighborhood circuit over one night and day, hosts some of the old antic artmaking spirit of Kuchar and Bob Nelson. The race’s checkpoints have featured a film set for The Godfather by Chris Fons and Renato Umali (racers collude in short scenes between their pedaling jags), and filmmaker/performance artist Steve Wetzel’s “Andy Positive” character analyzing the dreams of the dreamless riders during the wee hours. The resolutely anarchic Xav Leplae is looking to establish his new venture Riverwest Radio as a functioning non-profit entity, following the general silly-to-serious trajectory of many of this generation’s artists. Most recently, Ben Balcom, Josh Wiessbach (both UWM Film students), Steve Wetzel and Bogner opened the Microlights cinema, just two blocks down from Barber’s old Bamboo location (Microlights has since lost its home and is now a peripatetic venue). Riepenhoff regularly takes the Green Gallery to art fairs around the world, featuring a mixed slate of local and international artists. Michelle Grabner and Brad Killam, who relocated to Oak Park, IL, for a 10-year stint, in 2009 opened the Poor Farm, a rural contemporary arts center located in Waupaca County’s farm country. The venture perhaps best exemplifies the old Milwaukeeists spirit, attracting the attention of the international art world to an even further frontier, in a homey setting.[10]

A “scene” is a gathering of like-minded people towards a common purpose. During the period in question, much else was happening, other scenes, ancillary groups, which the network represented here could easily expand to include. “Milwaukeeists” aims to recognize a moment when efforts coalesced, when—briefly—critical mass was achieved. What does it take to make a moment like that happen? At its heart were seemingly paradoxical forces: A recognition of local qualities, paired with a core desire to connect Milwaukee to the outside world. That connection required keeping our peculiarly personal approach, not so much based on coalition- or audience-building, or even attention-seeking, rather a desire for the active interchange of meaningful dialogue both inside and outside institutional channels. Perhaps it’s the willful idiot’s glee of investing everything in a ridiculous proposition, where the rewards are largely undefinable and, if successful, difficult to repeat. That particular confluence of personalities, circumstances and aspirations has had a lasting impact visible in our current moment, a humming scene that continues to attract outsize attention to a relatively smallish, inwardly-focused Midwestern city.

—Nicholas Frank

Milwaukee, 2013


1. Michelle Grabner, in The Brooklyn Rail: “…Milwaukee seemed manageable in terms of supporting a young family and starting careers as artists. Here we could arrange our life so that part-time teaching could sustain dedicated studio practices while raising two young kids. Chicago is vastly more expansive and more expensive so we thought that Milwaukee was the better option for us coming out of graduate school. It was a great decision. I regret moving to Chicago seven years later, and thinking that was our only viable option as artists living in the Midwest.” And, “I have no esteem for Chicago and prefer the social and cultural landscape of Milwaukee. Great amounts of creative energy are still being wasted on promoting and reinforcing outdated cultural hierarchies or on criteria of success adapted from New York.” (interviewed by Barry Schwabsky, March 2, 2012 issue.)

Matthew Higgs, in Artforum: “…the Milwaukee International served a function that went beyond the merely commercial: It provided an occasion, a platform, for sympathetic individuals to meet—in person—to share information and ideas in a manner that was both convivial and communal. The fair also reminded me of how and why, as a teenager in the North of England in the late 1970s, I started to become tentatively interested in art via the independent, DIY music scene that emerged in the aftermath of punk. Like that scene, the Milwaukee International proposed a viable, self-sustaining model of culture, one that was rooted not in social or economic one-upmanship but in the pleasures of self-determination, friendship, and cooperation…” (December 2006 issue, “Best of New York” column.)

2. Laura Owens interviewed by Sarah Lehrer-Graiwer, Artforum, March 2013 issue.

3. Many filmmakers of note passed through the Bamboo, including Naomi Uman, Jim Trainor, Selina Trepp, Matt McCormick, David Gatten, Cooper & Battersby, and it bears mention that Barber’s network extended to other forms. Davey Rothbart of Found Magazine, now a regular contributor to NPR’s This American Life, visited her space and hung out with people afterwards, as was the custom, on an early speaking tour. Renato Umali’s annual Umali Awards were first held at the Bamboo.

4. The program’s full title is “Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists.” Upon her death, Mary Nohl left her fortune to the city with non-specific instructions that the money go to artists. Polly Morris invented the program based on similar models in other cities, and now in its tenth year (2003-present), the program has distributed sixty fellowships worth over $500,000 directly to artists in the four-county area (Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington).

5. The Hermetic Gallery closed in September, 2001, with an exhibition of paintings by Peter Barrickman, one of the major figures of the Milwaukeeists moment. Barrickman participated in many key venues, including Junk Cheap and Pumpkin World, and participated in many projects like Chaza Show Choir, the Milwaukee show for ZeroTV, the Catchin’ Whiffs soap opera, many bands including NaftaGattPowersuck, the Horn Band, The Fizz and The Chain, all while maintaining a consistent practice as a painter.

6. MWMWM was one of the four Uncomfortable Spaces’ alternative galleries in Chicago, along with Tough, Beret International and Ten-In-One. MWMWM was run by Chris Murray and Kris Berube from 1991–96. Personally, it was the important model for my own Hermetic Gallery, with an uncompromising program that expressed ambition beyond its own locale’s limits.

7. Barber and Reinders originated the Festival and ran it for the first four years, and Meredith Root and Carl Bogner worked with Barber on the final two installments.

8. Riepenhoff had not experienced either the Hermetic Gallery or Bamboo Theater directly, but their influence had come down to him through those of us who appreciated his taking up the cause. He performed at Darling Hall and soon opened his own venue, the Green Gallery, in a Riverwest attic.

9. The “Nohl Show,” or “Nohl Fellowship Exhibition” is actually called “The Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowships for Individual Artists,” followed by the year the fellowships were distributed. Each year of its existence to date, the exhibition has been hosted by INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts.

10. Some updates as of January 2016: Grabner and Killam moved back to Wisconsin in 2015, bringing The Suburban art gallery project with them. Riepenhoff has re-established the irregularly-programmed Green Gallery West in Harambee. According to the Riverwest Currents neighborhood newspaper, Leplae’s Riverwest Radio launched its low-power FM manifestation on Jan. 1, 2016, at 104.1 on the radio dial.

About The Author

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Nicholas Frank is an artist, writer, and curator in Milwaukee. He ran the Hermetic Gallery, co-founded the Milwaukee International, programmed INOVA (Institute of Visual Arts) from 2006-2011, and is currently Curator-In-Residence at the Poor Farm. He is a member of the curatorial advisory committee at the Museum of Wisconsin Art (MOWA), and teaches at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD).