The Milwaukee Artist Resource Network was launched 20 years ago to provide its members with resources needed to create a local, sustainable art practice.
Now, that nonprofit group is getting a much higher profile – thanks to a new development in the Historic Third Ward that features a gallery, exhibit hall, store and even a coffee and wine bar.
Known as the MARN Art + Culture Hub, it was funded with a large grant, from an anonymous donor, to create more opportunities for local artists, said Mal Montoya, president and chief executive officer of MARN – which has over 300 members.
The Art + Culture hub is ”built by artists for artists and for those who appreciate their work,” Montoya said.
It opened quietly at 191 N. Broadway this year. But the hub lately has been drawing more attention.
The space was part of the Doors Open event, an annual citywide open house for local landmarks that ran in September.
Meanwhile, an official opening is set for the next Gallery Night MKE, which runs Oct. 15-16.
“People are seeing what we have here,” Montoya said.
The 5,500-square-foot facility, located on the first floor of the seven-story Lofts on Broadway condo building, features a gallery and exhibit hall.
It can be used for visual art showings, artist talks and other events, and includes a large projection screen, sound system, movable walls and tech lighting.
There’s also the MARN Marketplace, which provides space for artists to sell through consignment smaller art works as well as such items as T-shirts and hats with the MARN logo, jewelry and note cards. The store currently displays items produced by 34 MARN members.
The hub also features an innovation studio. It provides a way for artists to explore the intersection of art and technology, Montoya said. That includes using LED screens to work with motion graphics, he said.
The hub and its innovation studio will be part of this year’s Milwaukee Tech Week, with an Oct. 27 event called “Crypto and Coffee.” That will include a discussion on artists’ growing use of non-fungible tokens, also known as NFTs. Finally, the hub features a coffee and wine bar.
That will help lure people into the hub, while also providing another revenue source for MARN, Montoya said.
That bar will have its grand opening on Gallery Night. It will be managed by Interval coffee, with daily operations to begin on Nov. 1. The hub is available to be rented for public and private events. It includes a catering kitchen.
The space represents a big change from MARN’s longtime location on the sixth floor of the Third Ward’s Marshall Building, 207 E. Buffalo St.
The group still operates production space, including a woodworking shop and large-format printers, at the Marshall Building, Montoya said. But the hub is now MARN’s headquarters and includes its administrative offices.
“It’s a fundamental change,” Montoya said.
That change came about through the donation, with the grant designated for expanding the network’s services for artists.MARN decided to stay in the Third Ward, a traditional location for art galleries as well as home to the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.
The group signed a 10-year lease at the Lofts on Broadway building after the previous tenant, Elements East furniture and home furnishings store, closed its doors.
Joseph Development Group LLC, which created the building’s upper-floor residential condos and owns the streetlevel commercial space, wanted a tenant that would complement the adjacent retailer, Broadway Paper, said Nathan Bernstein, director of commercial real estate.
MARN is a good fit, he said.
“The people who would go to Broadway Paper would likely go to MARN,” Bernstein said.
Meanwhile, the hub “solidifies and heightens the presence of the arts in the Historic Third Ward,” said Jim Plaisted, Historic Third Ward Association executive director. Along with serving artists, the hub’s coffee and wine bar and event space “will create connections for the general public to their wonderfully designed space and the artist community within;’ he said.
The hub’s project architect was Wydeven Architects LLC, with Amy Carman Design LLC serving as interior designer. The general contractor was Catalyst Construction LLC.
The conversion of -the former Elements East space started in late 2019. MARN initially planned a 2020 opening, but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed that launch, Montoya said.
Now, with foot traffic rising in the Third Ward, MARN is eager to show off its new headquarters, he said.
“We want to peel the Band-Aid off and just go for it,” Montoya said.
The hub’s opening is among a series of new developments throughout Milwaukee’s arts scene.
In July, The Bindery opened in Bay View at 347 E. Ward St. It’s the redeveloped former Wisconsin Book Bindery Inc. facility and features co-working space for writers, graphic artists and others.
Arts @ Large community arts center opened its new, larger facility in 2019 at 1100 S. Fifth St., in Walker’s Point.
And No Studios, a collaborative office and events venue for filmmakers, visual artists, musicians and other creators, operates at 1037 W. McKinley Ave. at The Brewery, a mixed-use development created from downtown’s former Pabst complex.
“I do believe there’s a resurgence for artists in Milwaukee,” Montoya said. “I think people are starting to realize it’s an economic and cultural driver.”
There also have been some major projects in the performing arts world.
The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra’s new Bradley Symphony Center, 212 W. Wisconsin Ave., staged its debut on Oct. 1 after a $90 million conversion of downtown’s former Warner Grand Theatre. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Ballet’s Baumgartner Center for Dance opened two years ago at 128 N. Jackson St., in the Third Ward.
Such attractions help promote additional economic development, said David Lee, CEO at Imagine Mke, a nonprofit that promotes Milwaukee’s arts and culture sector.
That sector needs increased public funding – including money from the American Rescue Plan Act, he said. The Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett’s administration are considering ideas for spending Milwaukee’s $394 million share of the federal fund ..
“These are assets that should be utilized to attract other folks to our region,” Lee said.
Read the article written by Tom Daykin in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here.