Waukesha Focuses on the Arts

Waukesha, Wis.—The first snow of the season may be to blame for the low attendance at the Art Crawl, but those who attended were enthusiastic about wine, holiday spirit and the benefit the crawl provides for the community.

Stylish gallery owners, cheerful storeowners and bundled up “crawlers” warmed the icy streets in historic downtown Waukesha with the sense of community and family.

Thirty-five local galleries, gift shops, bars and restaurants joined together for the fifth and final art crawl of the season on Dec. 4.

The event is meant to bring excitement back to downtown and attract visitors from different communities.

Several years ago, Waukesha pushed toward integrating art into the community.  It began when Susan Buchanan—then director of the Downtown Business Improvement District—decided to increase the amount of public art in an attempt to put Waukesha’s historic downtown in the spotlight, attract visitors and promote community.

Major advancements have been made since then.

According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, advancements included a $30,500 grant the city received through private donations—not taxpayer money—in 2006 as part of the public art initiative.

Four years later, downtown Waukesha is having its 64th Art Crawl and there are already five more crawls planned for 2011.

The Art Crawl

A small, yet merry, group of art enthusiasts, families and community members lingered along the snow-dusted maze of manicured streets.  Storefronts lined with Christmas trees, lights and holiday decorations brightened these quaint passages in downtown Waukesha.

Adding to the scene, jazz music swirled from store windows creating a soundtrack for the night.

Inside the galleries and stores, attendees sipped wine, sampled hors d’oeuvres and listened to music.  Meanwhile, strolling carolers peaked their heads in to serenade these guests who also browsed gifts, photography, paintings and specialty items.

The consensus among the attendees of the Art Crawl was:  The event is beneficial because it gives independently owned stores the spotlight, and the reason they came was to drink wine and get into the holiday spirit.

Thoughts from a gallery owner

Rivers End Gallery was one of the major stops for the Art Crawl. The gallery is home to 100 artists—a large collection of artists for a small gallery.

Owner JoanSkimmons is an older woman of short stature, wearing flamboyant, colorful clothing.  Her short orange hair clashes stylishly with the shiny jewelry that drips from her ears and neck.

The Art Crawl is held five times a year and Rivers End Gallery usually has 300 people who come through the gallery each Crawl.  This season’s Crawl was different.

“It’s been a little bit on the slow side,” Skimmons said.  “Usually we see a lot more people.”

According to Skimmons, at previous Art Crawls, there has been a populated feel to the downtown streets as early as 2:00 p.m.

Skimmons said there was a slight increase of traffic around 5:00 p.m., but were only about ten “crawlers” in her gallery at 7:00 p.m.

Even with a low turnout, Skimmons believes these types of events are still important to have in the community.

“The art activities benefit a lot because they bring people into this area.  They realize this is a safe place to be, that they have wonderful restaurants to frequent—even when they aren’t doing crawls.  We bring people from all over,” Skimmons said.

The Art Crawl opens up opportunity for more than just galleries.  Stores, gift shops and restaurants gain exposure too.

Thoughts from a storeowner

Katie Stewart is the owner of Katydids.  It’s a warm upscale market that Stewart describes as an extension of her home, featuring gifts, gourmet food recipes, treats, and good times.

The Crawls help small businesses like Katydids gain recognition from community members, who help keep the store alive.

“This is our eighth Christmas in business,” Stewart said.  “The Art Crawl is a great way to get people downtown and aware of what’s downtown, and shopping local is wonderful.”

Thoughts from community members

Tim and Renee Harris strolled down the icy sidewalk.  The Harrises are a sophisticated looking couple with long black coats buttoned-up tight to keep them warm.

For them, the art crawl is important to the community and to their family.

“Our daughter has an art studio down here, but we’ve been coming since they started,” Renee said.

Renee’s husband Tim likes what these types of downtown-centered events do for the people in Waukesha.  “It brings people back downtown so they can see what the old downtown looks like now,” he said.

The Harrises were unsure if any of the businesses had gone under during this economic downturn—they believe most have been stable.

More information about this event and upcoming Crawls can be accessed at http://www.redhotartspot.com/, or by calling the West End Artist Association at 262-893-9227.

The next Art Crawl will take place on March 5, 2011, followed by four more Crawls next year.