What Is Gay Art?
Milwaukee Gay Arts Center explores the meaning
When I visited recently, a piano and small stage
remained in the room from an open-mic event sponsored by the social club GAMMA. The walls
held prints by Madison
artist James R. Reinke. Titled “Mad Man in the Mil,”
the show runs through Sept. 10 and offers gently eroticized and idealized male
nudes, more decorative than provocative. MGAC hangs six to eight shows per year
featuring local and international artists. In October, an annual Gay Youth Art Show will
feature work by students from Milwaukee
Paul Masterson is the center’s volunteer director. Masterson,
in his 50s and with a background in visual art and antiques, founded MGAC with
theater artist Don Hoffman in 2005. Hoffman soon left, and Masterson continued with the help of a small
board whose current president, Alan Piotrowicz, now organizes the live
center’s name poses questions. What constitutes gay art? Aren’t such labels controlling and part of the problem? One of
only a few independent LGBT art centers worldwide, MGAC proposes answers
through its presentations.
The mission is to promote and present visual and
performance art that is relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered
people; but as Masterson says, you don’t have to be Chinese to eat in a Chinese
believes there is a queer aesthetic, an LGBT culture, however fluid and
individualized, built at least partly on our outsider status and the experience
of persecution. These can certainly foster a critical perspective on mainstream
culture while firing the imagination, sense of humor, sensitivity, perhaps even
an eye for beauty. But processes of identity formation, feelings of isolation
and exclusion, and struggles for human and civil rights are subjects relevant
to every human being. I am grateful to have seen the sublime performance artist
Tim Miller at MGAC in 2008. His exemplary work hides nothing of his experience
as a gay man while broadly dissecting life in the United States.
MGAC just settled a lawsuit against the city of Milwaukee for closing its production of the musical Naked Boys Singing in 2005. It’s a genuine David and Goliath story of a tiny volunteer organization and its unpaid director, supported by the ACLU, in a five-year battle against the vice squad’s prejudicial tactics. “We didn’t give up,” Masterson said, “because of the historical treatment of the LGBT community here. That was the point.” The money will help pay rent.
Exciting New Productions
The center is the first LGBT organization to receive a
grant from the Milwaukee Arts Board. The money will support the development and
presentation of a new play by Wisconsin
playwright Neil Haven about homeless gay youth, dryly titled Pink Champagne.
A public reading of the play by important local actors inspired matching
support from the Johnson and Pabst LGBT Humanity Fund of the Greater Milwaukee
Foundation and from PrideFest, where a second reading was given this summer. The play
will open in 2011 in collaboration with Uprooted, the African-American theater
company. Performances will be followed by talk-backs with relevant service
organizations: Diverse and Resilient, and Pflag.
In September the center will host Thrill Me,a musical account of the
Leopold and Loeb murder case. It’s the maiden production of Theatrical
Tendencies, a new theater company dedicated to LGBT-relevant plays.
On Oct. 30, Goats and Monkeys, a reader’s theater
composed of members of the former Milwaukee Shakespeare, will present
“classical readings from the macabre” for Halloween. Shaia Fahrid of the Astor
Street Dance Studio organizes MGAC belly dance parties featuring male and
female dancers from near and far. These are not primarily LGBT events.
MGAC boasts a string of real achievements. Its continuing importance really depends on the use the town makes of it. Masterson welcomes ideas.