One of the first things viewers saw as they entered Kenilworth Open Studios on April 8 was a mural depicting the history of the United Migrant Opportunities and LatinX activism in Milwaukee.
It was also one of the biggest pieces on display. Painted by a UW-Milwaukee Community Arts class and Artworks Teen interns, the piece covered two full walls of the gallery.
Isa Cortez, an undergraduate research assistant, had helped to paint the mural and mentor the high school interns. According to Cortez, the mural was the most important piece of work on all six floors of the event.
“It’s so much more than just, ‘We’re painting this thing,’” said Cortez. “It’s kind of a way to declare our importance and our existence in Milwaukee and in the nation.”
Highlighted within the mural was Jesus Salas, who was one of the student activists who stood up to the chancellor and UW-Milwaukee itself in 1970, demanding better access to higher education for Latino students. The mural will be transported to the historic Walker’s Point neighborhood at First and Mitchell streets.
“The mural is extremely important because it tells a history that not a lot of people know,” said Cortez. “It’s art that’s being brought to Walker’s point, not by gentrifiers [sic], but by the students.”
However, that was only the first floor. With over 100 student and faculty artists showcasing their work, Peck School of the Arts’ biggest annual event spanned six floors for four hours.
Artists came from a variety of backgrounds, including art and design, dance, film, music and theatre, and there was no lack of guests to view their work.
“You are literally going to see 100 different styles of art,” said Rebecca Ottman, director of marketing for the event and a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee alumna. “Some people may come in and see something they literally didn’t even know existed.”
Ottman wasn’t kidding. All sorts of technologies were on display and available for use, including a 3D graphics engine that generated musical sound, Tintype photography and a mirrored stop motion animation lab.
The latter was run by Hannah White Hamalian, who had discovered her passion for stop motion animation when she realized she was spending more time working on it than her actual homework. However, the process is painstakingly long. For her next project, she plans to spend a month on a one-to-two-minute film.
Other floors had live performances from student dancers, musicians and filmmakers. There was an opportunity to take part in a filmed interview for a student documentary, create your own piece of art using virtual reality technology and make your own buttons.
One future UW-Milwaukee Panther, Sidney Cumber, had brought along a couple friends for her birthday trip into the city and especially enjoyed a mirror display that created an etched look as the viewer passed by. She pointed out the importance of showing everybody’s work to the public.
On the third floor, Cynthia Brinch-Langlois, a faculty member and Alaska-native, displayed her ecologically inspired pieces, ranging from books and written reflections to prints and drawings. One of the more colorful pieces was a series of works that depicted the exploitation of rice planters and their work. The series discussed the low wage these workers receive as opposed to the tremendous amount of money Americans spend on rice.
Brinch-Langlois also showcased her illustrations of barnacles and a sculpture of kelp.
A third-year returning artist, Zach Manners, reiterated the importance of the public being able to see and understand the hard work that goes into a piece of artwork.
“It brings people into artist’s studios, so you can see how the work is made,” said Manners. “A lot of times, you just see the finished product. It’s really beneficial, I think, for the public to see the process and labor that goes into it. The feedback is important too because everyone has a particular viewpoint, and I think that’s valuable.”
In a time when art programs are being cut, Kenilworth does not foresee any issue for themselves in the near future, especially after the $1 million donation they received from Jan Serr and her husband. This money will be used for a new multidisciplinary arts studio and performance space.
“This is a critical time in public education to see the quality and level of innovative research that we do here,” said Ottman. “If you don’t walk away a believer in public education, I don’t know what more we can do.”