MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee's art galleries are opening their doors to you, for free. It's the return of Gallery Night MKE, but you have to act quickly: this chance to explore the city's creative culture lasts for only two days.
This event is held quarterly and it's been around for many years, but amid the pandemic, it was forced to evolve, and at one point, was totally paused.
"Find a gallery that the description kind of calls to you, and start there. Start small. You don't have to visit them all in one night. It's a two-day event," said Ruth Lawson, marketing and communications director with the Historic Third Ward Association — the driving force behind the long-standing event.
Art, at its core, is the expression of the human experience. In 2020 and the years that have followed, together we've experienced a lot, while having to remain apart. Art is one way we can communicate from afar.
"Viewing art is the best way to get into it," continued Lawson. "And we know that people, once they see art, are more likely to buy it. And once they're comfortable in the gallery spaces they're more likely to come back and see it again."
And whether you're making art or viewing art, it is a stress-busting tool. Countless studies link it to mental and physical well-being.
"I think we've learned that over, you know, the last -- what is it -- two years now? Time is a vacuum. It's really weird to think about how long ago the pandemic started, but, the arts are essential," underlined Sean Kiebzak, the CEO of Arts @ Large, a non-profit on the edge of Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood. The non-profit is part gallery, part cafe, and part studio dedicated to equitable access to educational arts experiences.
Lately, Kiebzak admitted it is a delicate dance, providing a needed outlet while making sure safety remains paramount. And it's why Arts @ Large decided to bow out of this round of Gallery Night MKE. Kiebzak called it a difficult decision, but the right one. "We will have a virtual release of a video that will tease and give people an understanding of what the (new) exhibition looks like," he added.
Artist In Residence, Jeff Zimpel, is okay knowing that his opening night will not look as expected. "The pandemic has taken away a gallery opening, which for about a second really disappointed me," he confessed. "And then it was like, okay well, it's just a different type of show, we're going to hope for a closing. And that means the show doesn't have to get locked in immediately, it can unfold over the course of the two and a half months."
Zempel's brand new exhibit, 'An Ecology of Marks', launches Friday — celebrating the idea that everyone has the chance to make their own mark in the world, and Zimpel said, that sparks hope. "When I get way inside even a single brushstroke and see all the complexity and beauty inside even just a little mark — made by either a 5-year-old or an 85-year-old — I feel hopeful because it's like wow, we can really do something amazing with very minimal effort."
The exhibit will close at the end of March, and the opening night celebration has been moved to that date. "We want to be able to protect our artists and protect our community the best way we can. So we are moving our large celebration to March 31st," said Kiebzak.
The gallery inside Arts @ Large is still open six days a week for you to visit on your own schedule.
If you are taking part in Gallery Night MKE you are asked to follow mask guidelines at all of the stops. You can download a free app to plan your whole evening. It offers an interactive map of the galleries so you can plan your route and you can use it to dine locally. You can make restaurant reservations in the app and you can even find places to park.