Through MARN’s Social Engagement Fund, local artist Vaughan Larsen’s was awarded $2,000 for their project, “Queering the Cream City”, which replaced ads on billboards throughout Milwaukee County with works by exclusively local LGBTQ+ artists. The artists were Noah Tesmer, Lois Bielefeld, Alejandro Jūnyáo Zhāng, Jova Lynne, Matt Gold, AJ Morley, Skyler Pham, Lidia Sharapova, Isla P Gordon, Anje Thomas, Ashley Kaye and Va-Bene Elikem K. Fiatsi, and Salgu Wissmath.
You can learn more about the campaign and each artist here.
Larsen received their BFA with an emphasis in Photography from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee in May 2019. Later that same year, they earned first place in the 2019 Getty Images International Creative Bursary Award, first prize in the Amsterdam Pride Photo Award, and was named a 2019 Emerging Fellow by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s Mary L. Nohl Fellowship. Exhibited throughout Milwaukee, their work has also been shown in Brooklyn, New Orleans, PrattMWP’s campus gallery, and with The Reclaim Kollektiv in Cologne, Germany. Larsen’s work has been written about in publications such as Humble Arts Foundation, Urban Milwaukee, and Photo Emphasis. In 2021, their work was included in the publication Witness, curated by Efrem Zelony-Mindell, which has since been acquired by the MOMA Library of New York.
They are the founder and curator of That Way, an online platform and printed zine started in 2018, highlighting the work of LGBTQ+ artists from around the globe. Most recently in July 2021, Larsen organized and co-curated Queering the Cream City, an exhibition taking place on 12 Milwaukee billboards replacing advertising with LGBTQ+ art for one month. They love butterflies, the color pink, and making new friends!
MARN’s Social Engagement Program funds artists working with, not on behalf of, underserved communities in the southeastern Wisconsin area to bring to life artistic works that speak to needed and communally-derived change. The intended outcome of this effort is to support artists who are working outside of their silo and demonstrate to the Milwaukee artistic community that there is support available for such projects.
Through an online application process, artists articulate community needs addressed by the projects. Artists demonstrate what the need is, how they will engage with their community, and how their project highlights, draws attention to, fixes or otherwise addresses the demonstrated need. Criteria for evaluating project proposals is based on the level of prior engagement with community-based projects, their plan for continued engagement with the community they are working with, and how their project adds to the local artistic and activist landscape.