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Friday, Aug. 23, 2013

Art Circles

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When Pegi Christiansen of IN:SITE fame approached me with the concept of this project, I was very excited. Her original idea was to map the relationships between Milwaukee artists, to help us see the connections. Would such a map show us cliques and exclusivity or help us understand the gaps? Who are the artists who collaborate the most, and which tend to work in isolation?

We all work in circles: our friends, family members and co-workers together form networks around us. The making of art is no different. The popular conception of “artist” is someone working alone in their studio, building, creating and developing their work in solitude before they exhibit it in a gallery or performance space.

Yet artists frequently collaborate and partner with one another--but since these connections exist behind the scenes, we who visit the galleries and stages to see their work are unaware of the social and collaborative links that made the work possible. Artists connect in small groups and large, forming invisible circles and cliques. Beyond their connections with each other are their connections to places, venues and neighborhoods where their work is presented, and the schools and institutions where they developed their skills and networks.

How could seeing these connections help us understand the vibrancy of the Milwaukee arts scene? Would artists be able to form new connections or understand the web of relationships in which they play and create? How do neighborhoods, locations, and even races and ethnicities play a role in the links between Milwaukee artists?

With these and other questions in mind, I set out to achieve Pegi's original vision with a high-tech twist. Accompanying this article is an online version of the Art Circles map: an explorable visualization that shows the connections between individuals who participated in my initial surveying and interviewing efforts.

The map is by no means complete; as I began to pull on the threads of connection, I kept finding more. It made sense to choose an area of focus. Pegi originally wanted to focus on visual and performing arts, so the map includes painters and sculptors as well as theatre and music performers and educators. Connecting with producers and directors led to more links. Milwaukee artists frequently affiliate themselves with both formal institutions and informal collaborations, and many are for- and non-profit entrepreneurs who bring their art to the city through their businesses.

To make this map complete I need more information, and that's where you come in! In the online portion of this project, visible on expressmilwaukee.com, you can explore the map and contribute information using the form provided.

Over the coming months, we will explore other aspects of art circles: building bridges across the segregation of our city with the arts, connecting neighborhoods, including different disciplines such as film or design, and putting the spotlight on the organizations and events that foster broad connections where none existed before.

To check out the interactive list, click here.