# Arts in Milwaukee – MARNsalon II: Jessica Lynne
Please sign in:
or sign up

Arts in Milwaukee

A Public Service Of Milwaukee Artist Resource Network

No Results

No Results

No Results

No Results

MARNsalon II: Jessica Lynne

MARNsalon II: Jessica Lynne

Jessica Lynne is a Brooklyn based arts administrator and critic. She received her BA in Africana Studies from NYU and has been awarded residencies and fellowships from Art21 and The Cue Foundation, Callaloo, and The Center for Book Arts. Jessica contributes to publications such as Art in America, The Art Newspaper, The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, and Pelican Bomb.  She's co-editor of ARTS.BLACK, a journal of art criticism from Black perspectives, and a founding editor of the now defunct (but still special) Zora Magazine. Currently, Jessica serves as the Manager of Development and Communication at Recess. Find her on Twitter and Instagram at @lynne_bias.


Purview Statement


In her seminal essay, Toward a Black Feminist Criticism, Barbara Smith understands criticism to be a tool through which a “...body of literature becomes recognizable.” She goes on to write that “[f]or books to be real and remembered they have to be talked about. For books to be understood they must be examined in such a way that the basic intentions of the writers are at least considered.” In this text, Smith, a literary critic, scholar, and publisher of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, is specifically thinking about the necessity of a criticism that works to understand the breadth of Black women’s writing, particularly that of Black Lesbians. It strikes me that in 2017, a Black feminist criticism also provides a necessary framework for my position as an art critic.

I am often asked: who are you writing for?  This question is typically followed by: why do you write?  To employ a praxis of Black feminist criticism means that I write to place care around the practices of Black women artists. Their work. Their archives. Their fullness.

Aren’t you afraid of becoming the token, a friend once asked. We were discussing what it meant to be a young, Black, woman art critic which means we were discussing a question that has loomed over so many writers who have come before me. Perhaps another way of framing this inquiry is to ask: to whom are you responsible? Art criticism is not pure. It is not objective. With it comes the residue of our positionalities. And so, as a critic, I am thinking about rigourous, contemporary responses to the work of Black women artists. Black thinking women, to borrow from Elizabeth Alexander.

Such work is not simply a means through which a body of critical discourse forms around an artist’s practice, but it is also a tool through which we may map the vastness of black female cultural production. Criticism, then, is a way of showing up. It is a way of placing intellectual frameworks around the gestures and processes of artists. It is a way of preventing gaps and exclusions. What is most urgent for me now is engaging in a critical practice that moves against silences and undertakes assessments of visual, performance, and literary culture in a manner that centers and prioritizes the complexities of black womanhood (s).



Participants: Monica Miller, Michael Collazo, Deniesha Kinnebrew, Yessica Jimenez, Michele St. Amour, Ellie Jackson, Riley Niemack, Polly Morris, Angela Thompson, Marcela Garcia, Howard Leu, Evelyn Patricia Terry, Blanche Brown, Marilu Knode, Della Wells, Ariana Vaeth, Jessica Lynne, Mikal Floyd-Pruitt, Cynthia Henry

Facilitator: Shelleen Greene

Shelleen: My name is Shelleen, and I’ll be your facilitator tonight. I just want to welcome everyone! I think this is the third time I’ve attended MARNsalons. I’ve had to pleasure to work with other visiting artists and engage in conversation. Although tonight, it will be Jessica and I beginning the conversation, we do hope that this opens out and that you will take the opportunity to participate as well. It's great to have Jessica back here again. As Polly mentioned, I had the opportunity to meet and dialogue with Jessica at the Lynden Sculpture Garden last year. It was the occasion of a conversation about the work of Zora Neale Hurston and her influence on artists and black women artists. It really provided me a wonderful opportunity to dialogue and to think about black modernity, the work of artists, and the work of critics and writers. So, it’s really great to have the opportunity to open up that conversation again and in a different way.

Jessica: Thank you for being here. It’s wonderful to be back in Milwaukee, and I’m excited about what is going to come up for us tonight.

Shelleen: As the facilitator, I am going to riff a little bit and, maybe, pull out and flesh out important aspects of Jessica’s purview. For me, when I first read it, the necessary framework of Black feminism stood out for me. I thought it would be useful if we began the discussion with Black feminism. In earlier conversations, I know you, Jessica, didn’t want that to be a sort of limiting terminology. However, I think the way that you are employing Black feminism at this particular moment is much more expansive than, perhaps, the term has been received inside, or outside, the academy and certainly within the arts world. When that term first appeared, I thought of it as an intervention, emerging at the end of the second wave of feminism with the work of the Combahee River Collective and some of Bell Hooks’ work that came out in the late 1970s. This was an intervention that perhaps marked the silences of a sort of dominant white feminism. Also, as you pointed out, this introduced a sort of praxis, way of looking at the world and or a way of enacting a world view toward societal change. Jessica, I was wondering if you could elaborate upon how you would like us to use black feminism as this necessary framework.

Jessica: That’s a wonderful question. For me, I think of black feminism as an intersectional lens through which we might understand the material consequences of gender, race, and class. Also, I think that it becomes a necessary and urgent tool for remembrance, engaging in memory, and engaging in documentation and preservation of work. For me, a black feminism acknowledges that there are a multiplicity of things that are also simultaneous. For example, when we think about dominant art world narratives, it is easy to forget Alma Thomas even though she was making at the same seminal moments as some of her white male peers who are revered and highly regarded now. So, I think that this insistence on multiplicity and simultaneity is a Black feminist framework that I am hoping we can all hold onto throughout the conversation tonight.

Shelleen: I would like to add that we can maybe, also, recognize the ways in which we are already enacting this kind of framework toward our work as artists or writers. With that in mind, bringing together the work of the artist and writer—which is basically the praxis aspect of it—how do we enact a black feminist approach? How do we begin to enact that framework? One of the first themes that came up from our initial conversation, Jessica, was the question of writing, because you are a writer. I want to note that writing is so hard. It’s such hard work to be able to do this type of production. You talk about it as responsibility. Yet, that responsibility is also about rigor to a certain extent. The work of research, going out, being very consistent and dedicated, taking risks, and going into spaces where perhaps your voice is not heard—and still making it heard in some way—is a part of the responsibility as well. I want us to take into consideration first of all writing, then the type of writing that needs to be done and that we need to do. Thinking about that in regards to Milwaukee—and you guys can disagree with me—I would say, perhaps, there is a vacuum of that type of writing here. Milwaukee has had moments when there has been a critical mass of art critics, and we have some today. However, we don’t have anything like an Art Muscle or Color Lines anymore. So, with this question of writing comes the inquiry of who is doing the writing and what it would take to bring about that critical mass of writers, again. Yet, like I said, writing is hard. That’s probably why we avoid it.

Consequently, the question becomes: Are there different modes of writing? Are there different ways of which we can become writers? This brings us to the proposition of the artist as critic, as historian, and as writer. What would it mean to generate a certain culture of art criticism here in Milwaukee? What would it mean to pay homage to its illustrious past of art criticism? Furthermore, what would different modes of writing look like? Perhaps, we are all writers in certain ways, but how do we become writers? How can the artist as critic, as curator, be seen as a certain type of writing—a writing of a particular history? When we think of writing, we are also thinking about the canon. Smith’s statement is really about the canon. So, how do we write ourselves into that canon? To sort of bring it back to Milwaukee, let’s think about the history of Milwaukee and the arts. It had a sort of late blooming visual art scene. How do we begin to write that history? Has anyone read a history of the arts scene in Milwaukee? Does it exist?

Della: It exists! You just have to look for it. I think a lot people think it's supposed to magically appear, but you just have to go research and look for it.

Shelleen: Right, so it’s there—in newspapers, books, homes, etc. It’s there. Then, how do we write that history and disseminate it? How do we bring Milwaukee into this larger narrative, whether it be in the context of black arts in the United States, the Midwest, and moving outwards? How do we find this history? How do we write it? How do we insert ourselves into the canon?

Evelyn: When you say, “How do you find it,” what do you mean?

Shelleen: The archive—where is the archive?

Evelyn: In the Milwaukee Art Museum and in libraries.

Della: In the Wisconsin Historical Society and people’s homes.

Cynthia: Hi, good evening. I wanted to say that the artists themselves are historians. Often times, I turn to Evelyn and Della to find out about the artists. Those who have been practicing for a while have become our historians, whether they realize that or not. As a gallery owner, critical writing is one of the main things I see missing from an artist's practice, especially in artists of color. So, currently, I have an intern from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design engaged in a project where they are interviewing each of my artists and doing some critical writing. If you want to get into this global market, you must have a diagram of what you have done and what you are doing. What is most important is not what you have done in the past or what you are going to do today, but how you're going to affect this art market in the future. What is your art going to say? You have to write about it, think about it, reason, and say, “This is what I am doing and why I’m doing it. This is why it's important.” You have to establish yourself.

Shelleen: This is sort of the crucial importance of writing and why I return to this inquiry about who is doing the writing and how it gets done. Certainly, there are archives all over; however, the question is then about access, including institutional access. Of course, we can ask, but institutional access is not always clear cut. Additionally, institutional resources in terms of funding becomes very crucial in order to enact this type of writing that enters or intervenes in the canon. So, I’d like us to maybe have this as a basis of our conversation. Again, I’m trying to bring Jessica’s framework into our context. I want us to think about the art histories we are writing, talking about, speaking about, and or living, right now. Think about that in relation to the archive, institutions, and to funding. These are sort of the initial comments I wanted to throw out there. I know that we have art administrators, artists, historians, and art students here tonight. It would be really interesting to hear all of those perspectives. Graciously, we’ve had some people already begin the conversation. I don’t want to pull anyone out; however, Cynthia did mention Evelyn and Della. Thus, I want to turn back to the both of you, since I think your work as artists, curators, and historians has been very important in regards to the question of preservation, writing histories, and writing into the canon—especially in the context of Milwaukee.

Evelyn: Well, I’ll start—just because I’ve been doing it a little longer than Della; however, she may be more effective. Years ago, in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, I started recording history. I went around Wisconsin and tried to find all the African American artists that I could. Then, I started writing a book. I don’t think I do very well intellectually; rather, I’m more of what you would call a grassroots kind of person. I’m not into all the other stuff too much. So, what I can tell you about recording history from my perspective is that when you are working within the climate of Wisconsin, in general Governor Walker is the type of person that you are working with. Years ago, I started writing a book called Permission to Paint, Please. It is on African American artists related to Wisconsin. It covered people who came in and out of Wisconsin a lot, were born here, were educated here, or practiced here during those years. It covered artists like Sam Gilliam, who came here every summer for twenty-some years and did work in and around Madison. He worked a lot with the Madison press. Unfortunately, I haven’t visited the book a lot recently. So, even though I wrote it, I don’t really know as much about it anymore.

I had a contract with the University of Wisconsin Press. It was a great contract, because the guy agreed to give me 500 books for the people who contributed to the project. I think I raised around $95,000 to hire people along the way to help me write, interview, photograph, and do whatever I needed. However, then they sat on it and never worked with it. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the law. I remember somebody from The Links, Inc., who I was working with as a fiscal receiver, said, “Evelyn, we doubt you even know what you're doing in terms of publishing.” I was like, “You’re probably right. I don’t know what I’m doing, but you definitely don’t know!” I kind of got away from their criticism and was able to start working on getting them to be more supportive. At first, they were very supportive in terms of helping me raise the money. Then, they saw all the money, and it was more than they were raising. So, that became an issue. It seems like with all the people that could be helping with things, they are busy usually undermining them all the time, instead. Eventually, I enlisted Barbara Lawton, who was 43rd Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin, to go to UW Press. When she came back, she said I didn’t have a contract with them. I was like, “What do you mean? I have the signed contract in my house!” I went to Lena Taylor’s office for help, and they said that in Wisconsin, after seven years, contracts become null and void. That is why I no longer had a contract. UW Press wanted me to rewrite the contract and, probably, get rid of all the books they were going to give me. They had hired a new person, ergo the books were the issue. This all happened in 2000; however, recently someone called from the Milwaukee Art Museum and asked if I would meet with them to discuss turning over my research. I was like, “Oh, yea! I could do that, but why don’t you publish the book?” They said they would. Now, I’m waiting on them to get back to me. Still, in my mind, how I work on things is I never give up. I just say, “It can happen. I’m still here,” and I work on it. Consequently, now my research has to expand in some way. I am always collecting information, even on other artists outside of African Americans. I have always worked to connect to everybody as much as possible, because I get inspiration and ideas from everybody. I don't really want to divide everybody up, but i know that it's less of a possibility that African American artists are going to be documented in a state where a lot of people are like Governor Walker. It's sort of my responsibility to fill in where there is a need for it.

Della: Well, for me, I’ve always had an interest in history and being a visual artist. I felt like I was kind of schizoid. On one end, there are people who don't know anything about African American artists. On the other end, there is the opposite—which really scares me. I’ve gone into the doctor’s office, and they’ve said, “Oh, I know who you are.” Another time, one of my patrons went in to see if I was working at some place, but I had never told them where I worked. Another patron, who was one of the Vice Presidents where my son worked, asked if I was his mother, even though my son and I have different last names. So, it’s kind of schizoid, having some people who really know something about African American art or artists of color and others who don’t.

Evelyn: And, they think we’re all the same.

Della: They’ll call Evelyn my name, or they’ll call Mutope, Brad. We are all interchangeable, even though all of our work looks totally different. However, I think it’s important to document. I’m currently working on a documentary about the Milwaukee African American art scene. One of the reasons I’m doing it is because a lot of people have gotten a lot of stuff wrong. I, also, post a lot of stuff on Facebook—mainly because, I watched an interview once where an African American artist was asked if he feels responsible for other African American artists. I felt like the rebuttal was, “Do you feel responsible, because you have a gallery? Maybe, you could, you know, show them!” A lot of people always comment: why don’t we see the work or why don't they come to the group? I always tell them, “Well, maybe, they don’t want to come to your project. Maybe, they’re doing other things in their career.” When we talk about black people and artists of color, why do we always have to focus on the deficit? Just because you don’t know about them, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not doing anything. I think that’s an assumption people have.

A lot of people talk about African American culture and the arts in Milwaukee. However, the visual art scene really started developing later than those, like after ‘67. So, with our documentary, we started with 1967. That was the year of the riots and, actually, the year when a million dollars came in, leading to a lot of arts groups popping up. Even in my research, I found some people saying the Milwaukee arts scene was developing at the same time. During that time period, there were publications. There was Base 21, Color Lines, Echo Magazine, the local papers, and several art galleries. There was The Gallery Toward the black Aesthetic, which is where I met Evelyn. I used to volunteer there, and actually, that’s where I wrote my first review at age eighteen. The director had wrote a review, and I didn’t like what he wrote. He wrote about this artist, saying that the women were so beautiful people were fainting. I told him, “You can’t write that!” I didn’t know what I was doing, but I went out, got some reviews, wrote one, and got it published. There was People’s Gallery, The Free Willer’s, Milwaukee City Arts Council, etc. For me, the tragic part of it is that, while working on the documentary—I don’t know if you ran into this, Evelyn—I’ve came across people who have said I am not going to find any information. I’m thinking: this was the mid 20th century. There was television and microfiche. I mean, there were even computers. We’re not talking about mid 17th or 16th century. The information is out there! I think a lot of the time people think, because you’re an artist of color or even a woman, you aren’t capable. I remember being at Peltz Gallery in the ‘90s. I asked this one artist why she didn’t sign her whole name. She told me it was because an art critic had looked at her work and said it was too good to be done by a woman. When she told me this, I was thinking this had to have happened in the ‘60s, but no, she said it happened a few years ago. We have made progress, but we, also, haven’t made progress. For example, I wrote an essay on Black Abstraction for Evelyn’s book, and when she showed it to people in Madison, they said, “No, no, no. . .” Later though, someone showed me a New York Times article that said the same thing. I think people have a lot of stereotypes about art, artists of color, and so on.

Shelleen: Thank you both, Della and Evelyn. I think your comments and experiences of being working artists and of writing and recording histories fall into this concept Jessica and I came up with—exhumation: the pulling out of this information from the archive, which is quite recent as Della mentioned. All of this work is really a part of what we are trying to imagine as a Black feminist praxis. It comes through this kind of multiplicity—our lives as critics, artists, and historians—and how we have to learn different methodologies and pick up different tools as a means of creating and writing these histories. Through hearing your stories and the challenges you encountered as you began to work with the materials you labored over and collected, the question of the institution comes into play, again. First, I would like to hear if Jessica wishes to respond to Evelyn and Della. Then, I’d like to open the conversation up to the institutions—which includes Polly, Monica, Marilu, and Marcela—to talk about the role of the institution and how it may help or facilitate in some way rather than be obstructionists like UW Press. Maybe, you could speak to the different ways institutions can work with artists, who are now writers, historians, and are bringing a different set of materials and resources to you. How do we support and sustain this activity?

Jessica: I actually cannot claim that word, exhumation, as my own: I was watching the Oscars last night, and Viola Davis offered that up. However, I think it is really potent to think about exhumation as a response to the consistent acknowledgement of a deficit. People, stories, and histories have been here, but we’ve often chosen not to look at them. For me, much of that exists in what you are articulating, Evelyn and Della. You are stating that there is, perhaps, an absence in mainstream conversations but not amongst us. I think that is so important to remember. Also, there is a conversation about authorship and the ways in which artists working across multiple modes form their own institutions. That didn’t come up in our earlier conversations. Yet, you have Smith connected to the Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press and all these women—such as Audre Lorde and Cherríe Moraga—choosing to say, “We will build our own thing, because the institutions that currently exist don’t know how to hold us.” So, I think a lot of what you are talking about is the relationship that artists have had to form to institutions along with the way in which artists have formed their own institutions—whether they are formerly recognized 501(c)(3)s or not. That’s important to consider, reckon, and contend with as well. One of the things that I love about being a critic who has created her own institution through ARTS DOT BLACK is the way in which I can see what’s happening in real time. How do artists share from their own institutions and contend with what’s not happening there for them in the midst of still making, having a studio practice, and trying to be multiple things at the same time?

Evelyn: I can say something else. A couple of days ago, this person said to me, “You’re not a feminist.” I was like, “How would you know what I am? I’m me. I know what I am. If I just said I’m a feminist, I’m a feminist.” He responded, “You’re not a feminist. You have to get that out of your head. Where did you get that from?” I said, “What in the world do you think a feminist is? A feminist only wants money like everybody else. They want to be treated, promoted, and living a life like everybody else. They don’t want to be put down lower than the other half of the population. That’s what a feminist is.” He still responded with, “That’s not a feminist.” I know everybody wants to be able to achieve without people constantly stopping them and putting roadblocks in their way by pointing out they’re a woman. One more thing about that: early on in my career, it was difficult to get critics to just give me reviews in the papers, because I was a woman. I remember one review read, “Evelyn was in the kitchen. . .” When I read it, I thought, “Wait, why do I have to start in the kitchen?” It said something along the lines of: “Evelyn was in the kitchen and came out to draw this watermelon.” I was like, “It has nothing to do with that. That watermelon is politically significant! It has nothing to do with cooking in the kitchen!” However, that was how people wrote all the time.

Della: Yea, I wanted to say this too. I think it’s very important, but we don’t really do this: we should tell our children and youth about the arts and the different careers within the arts. They can be museum directors, curators, art historians, etc. I have a fourteen year-old niece that I buy a piece of artwork for every year. She wants to be a psychiatrist, but she loves art and wants to buy it, herself. I’m teaching her about me and my collection. I don’t think we talk to our young people and children about other careers in art. I want to say one other thing. A friend of mine threw me an art party recently. My fourteen year-old niece and my friend’s twenty-three year-old son came, and they said it was the best party they’ve ever been to. I said they had to be crazy. However, a fourteen year-old and twenty-three year-old really found it interesting. I think we need to really engage our young people and children more.

Cynthia: I think that is where I’d like to talk about Institutions some. Polly and I have spoken about this before, because institutions play a big role in what goes on in the city and state by what they bring in. The art museums must have diversity. When we can go and see, then we can learn. One of the things I would like to know is how institutions can better engage with communities and with artists—because they are the history makers here, too. When I first started in this business, I found it necessary to go outside Milwaukee to find models for the type of gallery that I wanted and to identify other artists out there. There is a whole world of African American artists and artists of color that have never been shown here. We don’t write about them, or anything. Then, my other statement is: as a gallerists, I want to present my artists as artists—not being black artists, first. Instead, I want to present them first and foremost as artists in the mainstream. I would like to know how artists navigate that, because you wear your color on your skin. Yet, you are an artist. You’re documenting this era and time. You are a historian.

Shelleen: Yes, I do want to introduce the institutional aspect. However, I also want to mention that for our conversation we introduced Black feminism as a sort of framework. We could have a whole discussion about feminism and feminisms, but we don’t have the time, today. I think we all have different kinds of opinions and positions, regarding feminism. For the sake of our conversation, we want to see it as an entree into the discussion and not as an obstacle or a stopping point. So, I want everybody to feel comfortable to use that term, or, maybe even, put it aside. If it’s useful to you, let’s pick it up. If not, we can still engage. Because Jessica introduced it, we definitely want to have the term there as a sort of framework. It is an important guiding point for her work, but it doesn't end there. Furthermore, If any of you would like to talk about feminism afterword, we are here.

Della: I will say this. If it wasn’t for artists like Evelyn, I probably would never have thought being an artist was an option. When I got involved with The Gallery Toward the Black Aesthetic in the early ‘70s, it was the first time I learned about African American artists and, even, women artists. I was really shocked, because I thought only white men did art. It opened a whole wide world for me. Then, you have people like Faith Ringgold, who actually fought with black men to get into the institutions; in spite of that, they ended up letting the black men in, but not her. So, she had to go fight with the white feminists. Even at The Gallery Toward the Black Aesthetic, I remember black male artists talking about different female artists. They complained about this artist, because she painted on black velvet. They said that was cheating. Also, they said another artist’s work looked like cartoons—even though, when I think about her work, I think of Reginald Baylor’s work now. They would say really horrible things about the artists and even to me. Being a woman is something. Then add being a Black woman. You have to deal with so many things: being Black, a woman, young, old. . . as a woman, there are a bunch of things that may be obstacles. I just want to thank you, Evelyn. If it weren’t for you and some of these other women, I probably would not be an artist today.

Evelyn: I didn’t want to be alone. So, I’d always say, “Come here. Go Draw!”

Della: And I’d always say, “No, no, no. . .” I think when we talk about feminism, we are talking about dealing with other issues as well. We are wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, etc.  We deal with being a woman, but we also deal with racism, classism, and so on. I think for me, this also affects the type of work I produce.

Shelleen: Exactly! I think that is how we are thinking about using Black feminism as a framework. We are using it as a means of exploring intersectionality and the many ways in which we have to define ourselves through categories of gender, race, class, sexuality, and so on. We are examining how that can be brought to bare. So, it begins with sort of thinking through this intervention from the 1970s. Additionally, it begins with thinking about how it is applicable to all of us. We can all enact this type of praxis in order to transform ourselves, our work, our surroundings, and or our lived social relations. It becomes a way, or mode, of living.

Della: Getting back to institutions, a lot of institutions were run by white men, and that determines what’s seen. Interestingly, a couple of years go, the last director of the MAM told me that museum directors were noticing a shift in the population. They need bodies to come into the institution to get money, but the demographics were and are changing. He said that the 30 Americans show was their 6th biggest they’ve ever had. Even further, It would have been number one, except a lot of their regular membership didn’t come to that show.

Blanche: I want to chime in on what Della was saying about the 30 Americans show. After the show, I was on one of the committees. I got to see all the numbers and statistics, and, like she said, the numbers went up. You would have thought they would have determined, “This is a good roller coaster. Let’s keep going with this. We have a good thing going. We have a lot of Black people that have come in who didn’t even know what the art museum looked like inside.” Yet, how many years ago was that? Even after they had the outsiders show, I felt positive that they had a mix of people. That way, no one could say, “Oh, this is a Black show,” because there was a mix of black, white, and other ethnicity outsider artists in the show. However, you still did not see that momentum continue on. That’s where the fall off is. You have momentum going. Then, for whatever reasons we touched on here, you don’t get that consistent follow up or follow through.

Polly: I want to say something about the archive. For many years, I’ve been an observer of the Milwaukee art scene in some way. Clearly, there are a lot of different parts of it. However, I certainly noticed that with this 21st century tool—the internet—there are new ways for people to create and share an archive. For example, I have talked to Evelyn about her book for years and years; still, at some point, I began receiving amazing emails from her where she laid out all kinds of issues and thoughts. For me, it was like an education to get those. At the same time—although I’m not very good at Facebook—I know Della is posting stuff. I know, because people tell me all the time! Also, it really intrigues me that Evelyn and Della—who have appointed themselves historians of Black artists in Milwaukee—are both women. They made the jump to using this form of dissemination when they came up against obstacles of disseminating other ways. In my perspective, the people who document what is usually referred to as the Wisconsin art scene or the Milwaukee art scene—which is predominantly a white art world—are all men. Periodically, I get long emails from Gary Gresl related to a project he is involved in that is trying to document Wisconsin artists. Also, Eddee Daniel writes his blog. Even so, the voice I get from Evelyn and Della is a very different voice. It is not limited to talking about women artists. It is not totally limited to talking about Black artists.
Whereas, I think the other approach has been focused predominantly on white males with some female artists added in. We have to think seriously about how we preserve this archive, which in some ways is a very ephemeral one. I think it will be very useful for people who are looking at the history or evolution of the Milwaukee art scenes in the future .

Howard: May I follow up on what Polly is saying? I one-hundred percent agree that the media and platforms that do put out content promoting art or about art and artists aren’t for us in this room. They are directed toward people who are not a part or in tune with the art community and are probably predominantly white. I’ve seen the statistics and demographics of most of the local media companies. So, how do we challenge that? That’s hard, because a lot of that is driven by money. That includes anything written in the Journal Sentinel. Although, you are an Art City contributor, Della, the writers are still predominantly white and write about certain ‘feels’ of art. Thus, how do we create a platform that will produce content that is not going for the money? I don’t mean that cynically. However, I works at a wonderful institution that is very fortunate to be funded in a way where there isn’t the normal bottom line and grants are written in order to put art in our galleries. I can’t help but ask: how can we challenge the media and say we matter too? This is our city. What I read should connect with me. I read everything and know what is all going on. There are no art critics or even critiques. Instead, it’s more about what is happening and going on. There are previews; however, reviews are the same as previews now. Shepherd Express and Wisconsin Gazette have the same person writing it. So, our city is all the same: this is my frustration. I worked for Third Coast Digest, managing the publication and doing some writing. For them, I was a photojournalist and reported what art event was going on. How do we create that platform? How do create that vessel we can all jump on, contribute to, and grow. Then, from there, reach the people from the suburbs, classes, ages, and races that the mass media aren’t hitting.

Marcela: Along with that, I’m seeing a fear within more established institutions like the Milwaukee Art Museum, because the distance between community and what they house is driving a deeper and deeper wedge. It seem like it’s not until they start seeing the attendance numbers drop that they start having conversations about the possibility that they aren’t creating programming that resonates with the communities that they should be catering to. For so long, funding mechanisms were tied to those organizations without questions. Now when we look at foundations, they are asking more questions as to what the diversity looks like on the board or staff level. They are asking, “What narratives are you really sharing with the broader community?” and most importantly, “How are you engaging with community?” I say this as a representative of a grassroots organization very rooted in community. Even then, with our history of that, I see the struggles of engaging and bringing programming that is relevant and significant. In my organization, we can afford to take risks that other places can’t. That’s why I see a lot of this movement toward creating your own spaces. Then you don’t have anyone to report to or the horrible documentation of reporting and the funding that’s attached to it. Those are such a pain in the butt. When we have conversations with other organizations, what is especially important to ask is: how can we get away from that? Sometimes what we are able to offer the community is so much tied by the funding mechanisms. It’s kind of like a shackle sometimes.

Mikal: Hi, I’m Mikal Floyd-Pruitt. I am an Artist in Residence and work as the Event Coordinator here at Jazale’s Art Studio. I was in the Wisconsin 30 with Della, Evelyn, Blanche, and the other people who were mentioned. I guess, related to what Marcela was saying about being tied to the funding mechanisms, I think in Milwaukee, in particular, it’s the chicken or the egg. If you can sell a bunch of artwork, then you can fund things yourself. However, if you don’t have a city that’s supporting you to become a nationally recognized selling artist, it’s hard to get that funding. For example, we put on a lot of events here that, frankly, are pretty amazing and create an atmosphere that isn’t being created in many other spaces around the city. In addition to this, we do it for a fraction of the cost of other places. So, a lot of people in the city know Vedale and I. He started this place. However, we don’t sell that much work. It is like, “Oh, cool! Everyone at the Art Museum knows me.” Still, I’m like, “Cool. Can you spend like $10,000 on a painting though? That’d be way cooler than you just knowing me right now.” When Hank Willis Thomas was here for 30 Americans, one of the things he said afterwards—and I think he really said this as a prompt to the city or the institutional establishment—was, “Well, this show was long overdue, but it's cool that you did it. Better late than never, but I’m more curious to see who emerges as a nationally recognized artist after this.” I am forgetting what article that was in, but it was in one of the few interviews he did. That really stood out to me. He may have said something similar to, “Who will the city push to the forefront?” Either way, it was insinuating that it’s not just the artists by themselves. There are these other mechanisms that can help do that, because if you not selling a bunch of work, you have to get funding. Then again, we are also all competing for funding. So, we end up in this situation where I want to go to my events and I want to go to your events, but we are probably writing the same grant right now.

Daneisha: I think it’s very important to connect with people that are doing different things in the community: writers, videographers, visual artists, and musicians. It’s important for us to formulate a pathway and a form of publication for ourselves, since we keep finding ourselves asking, “Why isn’t this institution or this organization accepting me?” We keep trying to send emails to these people. Yet, it’s the same thing every time: we are left on the outside. I’m very appreciative to be a part of this conversation, because I am going to be working with Mikal to host a monthly event here. We are going to incorporate constructive conversations and workshops about how we can continue liberating ourselves. We can’t really depend on other people to liberate us. Is it our responsibility? Maybe, it is, or maybe it’s someone else’s. Nonetheless, we still have to be DIY and do it ourselves.

Michele: I want to add two cents to that. I really like what you said about banding together. I didn’t get to go to Washington, D.C. in February. I did, however, make it to Madison. At the event, it was primarily women, but also some men and kids. I found the most empowering part of it to be that people were not saying, “You’re different than me, you’re different than me, and you’re different from me.” Instead, it was about being in it together. I think Milwaukee has a history of German heritage that tends to say, “This is mine. You can’t touch it, because you’re competing against me,” instead of working together to make something much bigger than we already have. I started talking to someone about that a month or so ago. We were talking about the fact that the younger community tends to be a little more open as the generations progress. They tend to be more and more open to doing things like that. However, the grandparents are more like, “Psh! Whatever. I can’t even talk to you because of the color of your skin.” Yet, my kids are like, “What? What is that? What does that even mean?” I think you hit a big thing, Daniesha. The labeling that goes on doesn’t help anything. If we stop doing that and start working together, we can all kick ass! Then we can stop going, “Well, I can work with you, maybe, on this part, but I can only work with you on this part. . .” If we all help each other, it will be so much better.

Daneisha. Right. Then, we can see it as not competing with one another to be seen at the same level.

Marilu: I want to talk about institutions. I think we are at a very critical moment in time. Frankly, I couldn’t have imagined we’d be in the place we are today. However, I think there is some really instructive history for us. I feel like we are in the 1960s, and we need to do for ourselves. I’m very optimistic about the fact that we are having these kinds of conversations, today. I did go to D.C., and it was a much more diverse group than what I understand to be true for the 60s. I think it is important that there are so many women who have taken this forward. It’s important to recognize the fact that there has really only been one generation of women leadership in museums across the country. The American Alliance of Museum projects that about seventy-five percent of the current museum directors—whom are almost exclusively white men—are going to be retiring within ten years. So, there's going to be some really significant changes happening at that level. Also, of course, women are cheaper. That is good for us in some ways and maybe not in others. However, it's a fact. AAM does a lot of research on the salary inequities between men and women in museums, and we are just cheaper. It's a fact: women are just cheaper. Recently, I brought in Dr. Susan Cahan, who wrote the book Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power. I knew her when we both worked at MOMA. That book put my hair on end, because when I was at MOMA, it was New York in the 80s. Back then, it was such a recent history. It wasn’t a far stretch at all. I was a part of the union that protested the lack of wages at MOMA. There were a lot of really interesting interactions. If you haven’t read this book, it's just haunting, because it talks about how there is this sort of big circle that has come all the way back around. One of the points she makes is The Studio Museum in Harlem was founded by some board members from MOMA, who were a very diverse group of people; however, it seems like the art world has gotten much much more narrow, whiter, and male since then. As much as he can be, I think Jerry Saltz has been as critical about this and the media. Nonetheless, I think there are some templates for fighting this that we can take advantage of. The Guerrilla Girls were just at MIAD, and that was really very interesting. Before I left Milwaukee, I did a panel titled Is Contemporary Art White Ethnic Art? However, I think this discussion may be sort of triggering it in a more effective way. So, when you are talking about Black Feminism, here is a way to attack that area—modernity was fundamentally founded on African art. We all forget that, but generally, Modernism and Postmodernism were revitalized by looking beyond the white canon and to other parts of the world. The very basis of art museums and what we do comes from a very diverse place. Due to the fact that institutions will start changing because they have to, and, in my opinion, there are a lot of people in place to change it, I’m a little bit optimistic.

Jessica: I realize we’ve moved away from this topic; however, I’ve been thinking about the point you made about funding, Marcela. One rarity during these types of conversations is the presence of a funder. I think a question to ask is how do we start to bring those people into the conversation a little more explicitly? Certainly, they have their parameters as people who give out money. Still, I think philanthropy is in a particular kind of crisis and has yet to confront itself in that way. That only happens when they're in the room. So, I completely echo your sentiment and know it too. I, also, work in development. How can we kind of force philanthropy to confront itself? Perhaps, connected to that is this idea of self-determination. What are the material needs in order to make sure that is a sustainable process? It is a bartering system, but it doesn't mean we have to ignore that real money gets real things done. With that in mind, how do we offer up that money as a source that doesn’t feel dirty or gross? How do me make it so we aren’t afraid to put our dollar where our values are? I think so much of the interesting institutions that I’m paying attention to—media institutions or otherwise—are trying to make space for alternative economic practices. They are doing this while also being clear that they do need dollars to survive and run. What does it mean to create, or encourage, fiscal participation in communities in a way that doesn’t make them feel alienated or like they don’t have enough to offer? I feel like so much of that has to be a part of a institutional building conversation as well. I just wanted to say that out loud.

Shelleen: Well, we are almost at the end of our time. Like any good conversation, this discussion has led to more questions. So, if you’d like to talk afterwards, I think that’s really important. I would like to take Monica’s invitation for all of us to go around the circle and share a few brief words or a takeaway from today’s conversation. It's always such a cliche to turn it over to the younger generation at the end; however, I want to open it up to the people who haven’t had an opportunity to speak. I have a few questions for all of us to consider. What kind of intergenerational conversations need to take place? What is the role of history for you? Is that history relevant? How does it become relevant? I have these inquiries, because we heard history tonight. We have history makers and historians here as well. What does that mean to you? What is its legacy? Is that important?

Monica: First of all, thank you, Shelleen and Jessica, for this conversation and facilitating this really great experience. I have a lot of thoughts. . . It was really interesting that I was referred to as an institution. Yet, I can’t escape that either: I accept it. I’ve had a lot of really great experiences here in Milwaukee where I’ve been able to participate in institution-lead—in whatever means that can be read—experimental programming and dialogue. I came out of an institution, MIAD, that was primarily white male lead and directed. When I was trying to navigate that system, I was, also, attempting to figure out my identity as a producer and human being. At the time, I didn’t quite understand that I wasn’t finding a place there for me and I felt really confused. So, in the past few years, I decided to go into many institutions, and have had interesting experiences with bureaucracy that have just been stifling. I’ve also had really great experiences. For example, through working with MARN and organizing programs like this, I’ve been able to look at the silos that are happening and understand that I would like to build more bridges between the silos of these art communities. I think these silos are produced from the scarcity of funding and critical dialogue. We are huddling in them. I see a need to make more connections. That’s part of my goal with the people who are invited in this room. I think we all represent different facets of a community here that I want to see more of.

Additionally, with this program, a goal for me is to create a form of history. We are being recorded now. We are documenting Evelyn and Della having these dialogues—and it’s obvious you guys love each other, low key. Even more, we are transcribing this, and it's becoming a part of a history. That is what MARN is doing, today. It’s important that we are having these conversations, but it’s also important that we are archiving them in some way.

Michael: What resonated most with me was competition. My thought to that is competition is the vain of human existence. It just doesn’t let us grow, but it’s so fun. What I mean by that is there is a standard that each of us individually sets up for ourselves. Within that standard, a community erupts. Then, they want to show that standard, and there is going to be competition for it. So, I’m trying to come up with what would be the healthiest way to solve that, because competition is necessary for development. We need it. We thrive off of it, even though it's nasty and dirty. And It's going to be dirty all the time. Still, we need it. How do we do it in a gentle, self-caring way? It seems, I just can’t find the answer, because I’m twenty-one.

Yessica: The conversation that we’ve had today is a conversation that I’ve been having with a couple friends over the last week. We’ve been discussing being a woman of color and an artist. I’m not seeing myself, other women of color, or artists of color in these places. I work at the art museum, and I’m surrounded by white everything. I’m not talking just about the building but white artists too. I feel like the Milwaukee art community is just like my experience in MIAD. It’s still very white male dominated. During a conversation I was having with a friend, we came to, “Okay. Well, what are you going to start doing about putting yourself into these places?” We can’t just have conversations about how we aren’t being represented. So, it ends up being: what are you going to start doing? One of my goals for this year is to curate a show. I’ve never done that before, but I’m like, “Okay. I’m going to start doing this.” Additionally, I want to have better connections with other artists in Milwaukee, specifically more women of color artists. As two people have already said, there is this whole competition thing. It’s true. For example, a lot of the time there is this situation where you’re like, “I don’t want to talk to you, because you think you can paint better than me.” People don’t say it, but sometimes they think, “They’re at this level, and I’m just down here.” However, we shouldn’t be thinking like that. Rather, we should just find a way to work together. If you think a person is more “talented” than you, then talk to them. Ask them how they got there and what their practices are, instead of assuming they think they’re better than you, because they are. It’s a classic mentality to have. We all have it, and I’m working on removing myself from that. So, thank you for this conversation.

Ellie: I’m not a visual artist, but I am a musician. I, also, produce a community radio show. So, I’m really happy this has been documented. All the while we’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking about oral histories and the power and democracy behind them. It is really easy to capture a story on a cell phone or a field recorder and share it with this tool we’ve all referenced called the internet. I just think that’s a really powerful tool. Kind of echoing the question of how we can band together, there are a lot of resources. Something I’ve been thinking about is WNYC has a lot of podcasts that are nationally renowned. I have a pretty cool podcast, but, you know, it's not like 2 Dope Queens or Radiolab. I would love for that kind of criticism to exist so that I can make better pieces that can become this sort of rock star thing that comes out of Milwaukee. Like Mikal mentioned, who is the rockstar coming out of Milwaukee to bring eyes to us? So, how can audio and music lift everyone up? Also, how can it not just lift everyone up so we can high five and pat each other on the back, but also lift everyone up so we can get eyes and attention here on these really important things that are happening.

Riley: More than anything, I want to say thank you all for sharing everything. I’m not from Milwaukee. I’m from Kansas, and we all know what the stereotypes of Kansas are—they all are true. This is really great and I’m learning a whole lot. I’m getting a lot of material to look up in order to learn more about Milwaukee. Recently, I’ve been kind of grappling with how I feel about the city. I just graduated from MIAD, so I’m finally actually living here: I’m not just student-ing. I’ve been trying to figure out how I feel about Milwaukee and its culture. There are some hardships. There are some great things. So, it’s really great to learn there is a history I can look up and find. Also, Evelyn, I really hope your book gets published so I can read all of it.

Evelyn: You can help me work on it!

Angela: I’m really grateful for all the perspectives that have been shared. It’s definitely been very insightful. I think it's a really important to have such a diverse group come together and talk about histories in a way that can bring us together, rather than focusing predominantly on what pulls us apart.

Ariana: I’m at a place where I don’t know how to start working on myself let alone start getting into community or social practices. However, if you don’t know, it is important to start anyway. Just start in your own space. For me, that’s school or the adopted family I have in Milwaukee. Just take time to listen to those peers and take them out. It’s very little, but I have a fake aunt that I met on the bus. I was adopted by her. I lived free with her for 2.5 months, because I met her freshman year. Recently, I just house sat for her. She tried to pay me, but I said, “Please, don’t pay me. I’m stealing all your food. I don’t deserve it!” I just went to her daughter’s play. She didn't even see me in the audience, because I had to leave early. So I just want to say, support those people in the little ways you can support somebody.

Shelleen: It’s my job to say thank you to everyone. Thank you for such a vibrant active conversation. This is what the salon should be: us in dialogue, speaking and listening to each other. I would also like to thank Jazale’s Art Studio for hosting us. I’m really excited about what’s happening here in Bronzeville, in this site, and what you guys are trying to put together here. I’m very excited about the conversations you’ll be having on a monthly basis now. I think this space is beginning to formulate what’s going to be the future of the Milwaukee art scene. So, it's just really exciting to be in this space and to interact with you, Mikal. Thank you for allowing us to be here, together.