The Grilled Cheese Grant is an annual emerging artist exhibition program that fundraises for thesis projects of undergraduate seniors at UW-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MIAD). They have a kickoff event each year where attendees may donate $5 or more and receive a grilled cheese sandwich made with locally sourced cheese and bread. Finalists for the Grant are selected by a panel of jurors who— to keep things as unbiased as possible—are artists not connected to UW-Milwaukee or MIAD. Each grilled cheese recipient also receives a ballot, where they vote for one of the five finalists. The grant aims to fully fund the winning finalist’s thesis project while partially funding the remaining four.
Rachel Hausmann-Schall is one of the current organizers of The Grilled Cheese Grant, along with Alyssa Anderson and Joe Acri.
“Seven years ago,” Hausmann-Schall explained, “the project was started by an artist collective called After School Special, which I was a founding member of. At the time we had all just graduated MIAD and had finished putting together our thesis projects. There was a scholarship that the school awarded to one or two seniors to help them create their thesis, but none of the seven or eight of us that helped found this program were the recipients of that, and we thought that there should be more opportunities for funding for students.
“We created this program to support subsequent peers that would be in the same position. A lot of us put a lot of money towards what we were making; depending on what it was, it could cost up to a thousand dollars. We based the program off of a model we had heard about in Chicago called Sunday Soup, and the idea was that a group of artists came together for a meal, and their admission would be a couple bucks in a jar. The money would get pooled together, and throughout the course of the dinner these artists would throw out ideas for a proposed project, and at the end everyone would vote on and decide who gets the jar of money. We subbed out the soup for grilled cheese to have a tie to Wisconsin. We’re aware of dietary needs, so we do offer gluten-free and vegan options at the event.”
Because of COVID, The Grilled Cheese Grant was unable to have sandwiches for the last two years; the fundraising and voting were instead done entirely virtual. They have received their bread from bakeries such as Breadsmith and Troubadour while getting the cheese from Clock Shadow Creamery. A small percentage of donations received are kept by the organizers for future programming, and another percentage is donated to a local community organization (this year it was Diverse & Resilient).
Over the past six years, The Grilled Cheese Grant has cumulatively raised over $7,000 to support 14 emerging artists and award 10 solo exhibitions. Last year they raised enough money to fully fund four of the five finalists’ thesis projects, even without an in-person event. Their seventh annual event returned to in-person this year at Milwaukee Artist Resource Network on March 26. Programming and events followed through April 3.
“The cafe in MARN is called Interval and they were very generous to cook the sandwiches for us,” Hausmann-Schall said. “In past years it was always a one-day event, so the exhibition would go up and then everybody would gather for a day like a week later. This year we weren’t sure about the COVID landscape and didn’t want too many people gathering, so we had our opening reception where people would come and go, and then voting and donations remained open for a week. We wanted to extend the time that people could interact with the work and learn about the artists, which we didn’t really do previously.”
The Grilled Cheese Grant’s sponsors this year included—but weren’t limited to—the Marcus Corporation Foundation, MARN, Portrait Society Gallery, Var Gallery, Wisconsin Visual Artists, and Artdose Magazine. The 2022 finalists were Ava Hager, Olivia Lorber, Lilly Luft, Sha’Tuon Simpson and Eduardo Zavala.
Hausmann-Schall said about the event, “We had about 100-120 people trickle in and out throughout the night. I was worried that we wouldn’t have enough supplies for grilled cheese, but we didn’t run out, which is great (laughs). Alyssa Anderson comes up with some amazing merch items every year; this year she made a bandana, a keychain, and an acrylic cheese mirror.”
She shares what some of their goals are for The Grilled Cheese Grant in the future.
“We do want to be more inclusive of other schools in the community that might also benefit from this—for example, Carthage or Mount Mary or Carroll. I think that would be a very natural next step for us. Also, this year we’ll be offering to one of the finalists a mentorship opportunity with an established artist in Milwaukee. We’ve awarded solo exhibitions to some of the finalists in the past so that they can continue making and showing their work, and we’ve been organizing a few of those this coming June at Walker’s Point Center for the Arts. There’s so many more aspects than just money that we could help the finalists with, and we’re determining the logistics with that.”
For more information about The Grilled Cheese Grant, visit their website: grilledcheesegrant.com.
Read the article written by the Shepard Express here.