This article is in a series by emerging creatives at Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) that explores both the apparent and hidden influences of professional art and design in the Milwaukee area.
Often artists and designers are told that they should go to cities such as New York or L.A. to "be found" in the same way that one would go to L.A. to get into Hollywood or New York to get onto Broadway. However, Milwaukee is becoming more and more of an artistic center of the Midwest, and with cheaper housing and a supportive, growing arts community.
Although it's true that the leading cities in creative populations remain New York City and Los Angeles, these cities are seeing a dramatic shift in their creative population. Many neighborhoods in Manhattan that were once known for their artistic communities have seen a sharp decline in artists in the area because young creatives started to move to the boroughs of NYC such as Brooklyn and Queens that have lower costs of living. However, now there seems to be a rising cost in the boroughs, too, as gentrification takes place.
It makes you wonder if living in a big city such as New York is worth it. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in L.A. is $2,500 and New York is just a little more expensive. In Milwaukee, the average rent is $1,120.
Nevertheless, is it possible to find work in Milwaukee as a freelance designer or artist?
Milwaukee has a large amount of professional illustrators living in the city. Some double as fine artists and graphic designers, and most have connections to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) either as teachers or former students. MIAD goes out of its way to make sure that their faculty have experience in the field that they are teaching.
This means that most, if not all, professors are also professional artists and illustrators. One of these professors is Susan Kwas, a Milwaukee native and former MIAD student.
Kwas teaches the junior and senior illustration students. Her work consists mostly of family- and children-based illustrations. Kwas started her career working as a graphic designer. Her last graphic design job was Discovery World, where she got to utilize her illustration skills more than ever, causing her to want to become a freelance illustrator. She then found a love for teaching which has subsequently given her the free time to also do personal projects.
Kwas stayed in Milwaukee for cheaper housing and a smaller city size, but also because of the city's close proximity to Lake Michigan and its beautiful architecture.
"I hope that people that are in the market for an illustrator think about Milwaukee illustrators first," says Kwas. "I know from my own career, but also as an educator, all the great talent we have here."
The disadvantage of being in Milwaukee in comparison to cities such as New York or L.A. is perhaps a harder time making in-person connections. The internet has made it easier, but nothing compares to meeting a client face-to-face to discuss details of a project.
But, according to Kwas, this opportunity equals out in Milwaukee. From the amount of stress and money you save living here she believes it’s worth it.
"You don't have to look further than Milwaukee to get really great illustration," says Kwas.
Originally from Germany, Christiane Grauert is a full-time faculty member at MIAD and a professional illustrator. Grauert moved to the United States to pursue a graduate degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. She later moved to Milwaukee when she accepted a job offer from MIAD.
Since then she has expanded her professional practice doing illustration work in the United States as well as in Germany. Most of Grauert’s clients are outside of Milwaukee but the internet provides for longstanding working relationships abroad that allow her to continue living in Milwaukee.
"Milwaukee is very easy living. It's manageable and easy to get everywhere," says Grauert. "I also like that Milwaukee has a lake that makes it feel like we are by an ocean. It has a sense of history about it. And I like the seasons."