13 April - Gallery Night in My Milwaukee

For as much time as I have spent in the historic Third Ward of Milwaukee, I have never experienced Gallery Night & Day. Bustling with boutiques, galleries and an international art school, this quaint arts district opens its doors four weekends per year, showcasing its wares and artwork by local photographers and artists. This 21-yr-old “art show” traditionally has spanned approximately six blocks. As it built a successful draw, the parameters have expanded to 61 venues throughout downtown to restaurants, the Calatrava, north to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and other venues like the historic Turner Hall, which held a fashion show to live music, featuring local bands.

In my preliminary research, a friend was kind enough to email me a hefty list of "must-sees". In my go-with-the-flow mode, we made it to...three. Shucks. At 5:30, friends Jean, Shanel and I started at Shoo to stop and say hello to proprietor and friend Kate. Shoo (http://www.shoostore.com/) carries one of the most unique collections of shoes, boots and accessories in the Midwest. Growing up in Chicago and traveling as a buyer, Kate has garnered street credit evidenced in her personal style and selection of inventory… pairs themselves that are works of art. We were doubly honored to find another friend and featured designer Heather greeting clientele and promoting her new line of handbags (http://www.home-threads.com/). As we perused the boutique, I happened to notice a woman I recognized from long ago… my former high school musical director. Mrs. Kramer and I reminisced and caught up on the lives and paths of past classmates from leads on Broadway, to theater directors to band members to actors on the big screen. While talking, I received a hug from another friend who just moved back from London. The whole evening continued to follow the same suit.

We all ventured to our next destination, the 320 East Buffalo building, with the goal of accomplishing three stops in one: Flux Design, CoPA and Picture Perfect Art Gallery. Ambitious as we were, we never made it past Flux. Was it reviewing their furniture line with too many glasses of wine? Perhaps catching up with former co-workers from my past advertising world and harassing a friend who leads a blues band that shares my husband's saxophone-playing skills once in a blue moon? Or Jean breaking out into different accents when talking to various people, strangers included? Perhaps it was just that time really does fly when one is having fun. Whichever way, we glanced at our watches to realize we only had 30 minutes left till the close of Gallery Night. How did that happen?

The pleasant weather contributed to the evening’s vibe of summer anticipation, as we walked to my companions’ old stomping grounds, the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. The type of vibe where people find things a little funnier, have the itch to get outside and appreciate crowds -- to feel alive. It was an evening where any silly act was a welcome invitation for a stranger’s chuckle … like Shanel pulling an empty stroller behind her as though barreling through a busy airport to make her connection, hitting cement columns along the way. As we entered MIAD, we were greeted with crowds of onlookers and artists discussing the interesting works of senior thesis projects, including a fiberglass-type layered dome to a printmaking paper lounge. As we traversed the different floors and cross-disciplines of art, I recognized a smile and had to say hello to a face that knew my history, my old boyfriend. The warm feeling of security in an old friend who appreciated my family fabric manifested where, within five minutes of conversation, the same goofiness rose to the top.

As the evening wound down and exhibits came to a close, Shanel apologized we did not see more exhibits than…three. Nonsense. To me, this WAS Gallery Night. Its warmth and welcome to neophytes reaffirmed my affinity for this city, with its low-profile, abundant charm of a tight community offering little pockets of culture and historical treasure. I had no expectations walking into the evening, for expectation often leads to disappointment. And what I received was finding different elements of my history crossing paths …from Mrs. Kramer in my high school years, to my first boyfriend, to former co-workers and musicians connected to my husband, my present, to people who have entered my life only within the past few years that I am honored to consider very dear friends. I did not want to view Gallery Night as a tourist, checking sites off a list. Just like travel, one might interpret being "cultured" as heading overseas just to say it was done, as if one tick mark should be applied to his life list. Yet all the while, he never noticed the newspaper vendor's crooked smile as he greeted him everyday or inhaled the nostalgic smell of bread baking at the corner cafe that he will someday see tucked in the background of a photo when showing his friends. I think being cultured could simply be noticing, appreciating and living the small joys without having to leave your own city.

And in this cherished city, I was fortunate to end the week with another new experience in an old venue. Date night with my husband included watching one of our favorite standup comedians, Louis CK. As brash as he may be, Louis CK remembered Milwaukee left a great impression from his last visit. He paid due respect by handpicking its gorgeous Pabst Theater to film live for an upcoming film (http://www.pabsttheater.org/). The Pabst Theater was built by Captain Frederick Pabst to emulate the opulent European opera houses of his time. Donned in golds and reds, the theater boasts a 2-ton Austrian crystal chandelier, which is lowered to seat level once per year for cleaning. This theater "has been designated as a City of Milwaukee Landmark, a State of Wisconsin Historical Site, and a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1895, The Pabst is the fourth oldest continuous operating theater in the United States." And one of the most beautiful.

Gallery Night with friends and a date night with my husband and a comedian. My soul needed new light-hearted experiences as these. I drove around with my windows down and noticed light installations of periwinkle hues casting shadows on the freeway. I inhaled that familiar breath of home ... only my Milwaukee.

For more information on Gallery Night & Day, please visit http://www.historicthirdward.org/.

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