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Monday, Dec. 29, 2008

The State of Art

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The beginning of the new year brings with it both a cautious optimism regarding the country's change in political administrations and concern about the global economy. Several leaders of Milwaukee's creative community express their thoughts on the state of art in light of these momentous events.

RacineArt Museum (RAM) Executive Director Bruce Pepich has more than 30 years of experience in Wisconsin art management. Under his direction RAM has become one of the top Fine Craft museums in America. So we asked him about art's future direction. "Everyone is wary. The full extent of the economy on the nonprofit world, especially art museums, is unknown," Pepich says. "It's hard to picture the total problem. People will be looking for nourishment¾ psychological, spiritual, and aesthetic. People will need each other… Where better to find community than at concerts, theaters, and museums?"

Elaine Erickson, owner of the Elaine EricksonGallery in the Historic Third Ward and president of the Milwaukee Art Dealer's Association, agrees with Pepich. "When a person, even myself, walks into an art gallery, you feel good to put yourself in a place where you feel comfort, surrounded by beauty," she says. "Here is something beautiful created by man for man instead of all the tragedy."

Whether that tragedy is war, a struggling economy or personal sorrows, art can encourage comfort, community and even optimism.

"The state of art is great. The strong University of Wisconsin school system really gives a very good base for artists to be educated [and to become] part of Milwaukee's vibrant art scene," says Graeme Reid, assistant director at the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend. "Plus we have 20-somethings opening new galleries-art entrepreneurs that are committed to continuing the arts.

"Where else within a short distance would you find five great art institutions that have carved out their unique niche?" he adds. "There's the Milwaukee Art Museum, the RAM, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, the Woodsen in Wausau and then the MWA. Art is very much alive and well."

An open forum held later this year at Marquette's Haggerty Museum of Art will explore these issues more deeply. "The State of Art: The Visual Arts in Wisconsin" takes place March 26 at 7 p.m.

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