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UPAF’s Next Gen Initiative

Off the Cuff with Co-Chair Renee Johnson

May. 27, 2014
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Renee Johnson may have “WE Energies procurement manager” on her business cards, but she’s got another important duty on her plate: co-chair of United Performing Arts Fund’s Next Generation initiative. As one of three individuals in charge, Johnson is responsible for cultivating a new generation of community leaders, securing the future of UPAF and the performing arts. She sat down with Off the Cuff to talk about what exactly Next Gen is, and why it’s important to UPAF’s mission.


What is UPAF’s Next Gen program?

Next Gen is an affinity group in UPAF for people 45 and younger. We’re trying to get community leaders together to support the arts going forward. UPAF brings all these performing arts groups under one umbrella, so Next Gen is a good place for them to look when they’re seeking new board members or volunteers.


How did you get involved with Next Gen?

WE Energies originally loaned me to UPAF to help raise the dollars they were looking for in their annual campaign, so I was a volunteer there for three months. It got my foot in the door. I was able to meet a lot of folks through that whole process, and I started to get involved with other initiatives, including Next Gen.


Why do you see it as an important initiative?

I’m an accountant by trade, so what attracted me at first was the economic impact on the community. When people go out for the arts, they also get dinner, pay for parking, etc.—and having a vibrant arts scene will help us to bring new businesses to town, because that’s what their employees want. After I was exposed to UPAF and Next Gen, though, I got to know what all these groups do for the community outside of their performances. You think when you sit and watch a performance, that’s all they do, but I found even groups that don’t specifically perform for young audiences work with schools, and can help fill the budget-cuts gap. I hadn’t known that. I want my kids to be able to enjoy the same things I enjoy now, and these groups help make that possible.


What additional benefits are there for members?

In addition to giving them the ability to support the arts, we offer a “Season Sampler”—special events that are unique, like exclusive backstage visits or open practices. For example, with the Milwaukee Ballet’s recent show, Mirror Mirror, Next Gen was able to secure special seating and a few other things. We try to jump around the different membership groups for that, so all the groups are represented.


How can individuals get involved?

Several local companies have workplace giving campaigns, so lots of people can pledge through there. Otherwise you can donate online through the UPAF website, upaf.org, and if you make a donation of $500 or more for the year, you can opt in. We’ve currently got about 650 or 700 members, along with 20 or so on our council.


UPAF’s Ride for the Arts is this Saturday, June 1. Register online at upaf.org.


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