Milwaukee Arts Board Announces 2023 Artists of the Year, Friends of the Arts Award Honorees

MILWAUKEE – The City of Milwaukee Arts Board (MAB) is announcing the 2023 Mildred L. Harpole Artists of the Year and 2023 Friends of the Arts award recipients. These honorees recognize and celebrate excellence and exceptional service in Milwaukee’s arts community.

Artists Ben Tyjeski and Paul Druecke were named the 2023 Artists of the Year, while Jenelle Elder-Green and Carl Bogner were named the 2023 Friends of the Arts.

“Our arts community is unique and makes our city special. Milwaukee artists, creators, and advocates are full of contagious energy that adds value to our neighborhoods,” said Mayor Cavalier Johnson. “I am proud to honor the 2023 Artists of the Year and Friends of the Arts. These are leaders in Milwaukee’s creative community who are helping position our city as an inclusive arts and cultural hub that we can all be proud of.”

“The 2023 Artists of the Year and Friends of the Arts are excellent stewards of our arts community. Milwaukee is stronger through their talent, creative contributions, and commitment to the city’s success,” said Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, Chair of the Milwaukee Arts Board. “Congratulations to this year’s award recipients. Together, we are preserving and enhancing arts and culture in Milwaukee for years to come.”

2023 is the first year that the Milwaukee Arts Board accepted award nominations from the public. All award recipients will be honored on June 13, 2023, at 4:30pm in the City Hall Rotunda. Local arts organizations receiving MAB sustaining grants will be recognized as well.

More information on this year’s honorees is below. Headshots are available upon request.

• Ben Tyjeski (Tyjeski Tile Co.), 2023 Mildred L. Harpole Artist of the Year. Ben Tyjeski specializes in creating handmade art tile and publications on historic faience tile and terra cotta. Tyjeski spends his time between the workshop and the camera in order to document and preserve architectural ceramics in his home State of Wisconsin and carry on the craft tradition by creating his own arts & crafts tiles. He designs tiles inspired by colors, textures, and motifs drawn from explorations of native plants and wildlife. He is also a self-published author. In 2012, Tyjeski earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In 2016, Tyjeski began teaching art at Garland School, and in March 2023, he was chosen as Teacher of the Year. Ben also works to foster a safe and supportive environment for his LGBTQ+ students.

• Paul Druecke, 2023 Mildred L. Harpole Artist of the Year. Paul Druecke is an artist and writer. His ongoing project, America Pastime, was recently featured in The New York Times. Since 2018, Druecke has produced and directed Milwaukee Kitchen, described as “the antidote to modern cooking programs (and everything else).” Druecke’s interdisciplinary projects are attuned to urban landscapes, the fault lines of social convention, overlooked experiences, byproducts, landmarks, domesticity and snapshots. His work has been included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial, Sculpture Milwaukee, and featured in Blackwell and Wiley’s Companion to Public Art.

• Jenelle Elder-Green, 2023 Friend of the Arts. Jenelle Elder-Green’s interest and involvement in the arts began as a young girl performing Easter and Christmas plays in church, and has grown to getting youth involved in the arts, financially supporting students with scholarships, and directing children’s plays. Elder-Green started her early collection with prints by African American artists and that collection has grown to include art by notable creators. When traveling, she purchased art from Senegal, Haiti, Jamaica, Egypt and South Africa, including photography, amber, glass, wood designs, handmade table clothes and designs from goat skin. Her collection includes work by African American artists in Wisconsin. Elder-Green has worked on various exhibits, including at Collectively Speaking, African-American Art from area collections, the Milwaukee Art Museum, African American Art Alliance, Milwaukee County Historical Society, African American Art of the Midwest Milwaukee Inner City Arts Council, Performing Arts Center Grounds, and more. She also worked on HATS, an exhibit of women’s hats for various occasions, and contributed on a similar exhibit of African headpieces and how to make them at Skylight Theatre.

• Carl Bogner, 2023 Friend of the Arts. Carl Bogner is a member of the Teaching Faculty of Film, Video, Animation and New Genres at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Bogner moved back to Milwaukee in the late 1980s to work at Harry W Schwartz bookshops, where he worked for ten years before attending UW-Milwaukee to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film. Bogner went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts from Bennington Writing Seminars. From the start of his career, Bogner has become an active curator, sharing his infectious love of cinema by excavating the astonishing rarities, ignored gems, and unknown treasures. Bogner is involved in many aspects of LGBTQ life in Wisconsin, largely in the Milwaukee area. Most notably, Bogner was the longtime director of the LGBT Film/Video Festival in Milwaukee. Bogner has devoted his life to selflessly helping others in his roles as a teacher, mentor, and leader in Milwaukee’s queer community for over thirty years. Carl’s footprint within the art world has been felt by hundreds of folks. His support to amplify the film genre while developing young talent is coupled with his efforts to tirelessly create a world that is more inclusive for all. Carl’s career, teaching, and mentorship shape and affirm a place of belonging for folks that have historically been at the margins.

The Artists of the Year program was inaugurated in 1995 by former Alderman and MAB Chair Wayne Frank. The Artists of the Year Award was renamed in 2020 in honor of late, beloved arts board member Mildred L. Harpole. Each recipient receives a $1,500 cash award. Funds used to launch the first award included a memorial bequest in honor of Milwaukee artist and former MAB member Jim Chism. Additional funds for the award come from MAB members.

Established in 2012, the Friends of the Arts Award is given to individuals who, often behind the scenes, have distinguished themselves through exceptional service to Milwaukee’s arts community.

The MAB sustaining grant program is funded by the City of Milwaukee, with support from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the State of Wisconsin, and the National Endowment for the Arts. MAB also awards matching funds annually for public art conservation.

More information about the Milwaukee Arts Board is available at

Find more press releases HERE.