Last month, Var Gallery and Studios opened at 643 S. 2nd St. in a former aluminum foundry that had been empty for a couple of years. The gallery, artists’ collective and bar showcases art shows, acoustic live music, comedy performances, workshops, open figure drawing, talk sessions, social gatherings and more.
Josh Hintz and Renee Navis are the driving forces behind Var – both are artists who graduated from MIAD in 2012.
Hintz is a painter and interior designer who did much of the build-out work on the space. Navis draws and is into "amateur science." (She petitioned for MIAD to offer a science minor and became one of the first to receive it.)
The space includes 22 artist studios spread out on two floors. Within the studios there are workshops featuring woodworking, metal working and soon there will be ceramics, a dark room and screen printing.
"We currently house drawers, painters, photographers, sculptors, illustrators, printmakers and designers," says Navis.
Currently, there are 18 artists in the building, including Navis, Hintz, Blythe Davis, Ariana Stuckart, Andrea Dolter, Josh Ebert, Timothy Reynolds, PJ Moody, Allison Taylor, Leah Mierow, Katherine Belongia, Francesca Narvaez, Christian Sis, Tegan Andrich and Erik Ledesma.
"We started with people we went to school with but have been expanding out from the circle lately," says Navis. "We’re trying not to be MIAD 2.0."
Some of the current group – including Hintz and Navis – formerly rented space inside the Hide House in Bay View, but outgrew it and decided to move to Walker’s Point.
"It feels really good here," says Hintz.
All of the artists in the collective are open to discussion, collaboration and critique.
"We really try to get to know artists before they jump in so they’re happy here and are a good fit with the other artists," says Hintz. "We want everyone to feel comfortable working together and critiquing each other."
Finding inspiration from other artists is also important.
"After graduating we stopped making work, we lost some motivation, and this is about everyone getting together and being inspired by each other and each other’s work," says Navis. "It’s very motivating."
Currently, Var displays two and three dimensional work from the in-house artist collective and will eventually show works from local and regional visiting artists.
The full bar features one tapper, a variety of bottles of beer, a couple of wine choices and liquor. Navis, who currently also tends bar at Prodigal, primarily runs the bar.
Although there is great meaning behind the collective, the name itself – Var – means "nothing."
"Basically, we locked ourselves in a room with a couple of artists and kept playing with words until we finally tore apart a word that we liked," says Navis.
On Friday, Jan. 9 Var will host performances by Jack Tell, Myles Coyne, and Micheal Gerlach. Var hosts open figure drawing night every month. The next session is Sunday, Jan. 11 at 7 p.m.
Var will be a part of Gallery Night on Friday, Jan. 23 and open from 5 to 11 p.m.
The group also hosts regular, open-to-the-public, "TALK sessions" on topics that range from how to balance art and money making, creating goals in art and more. The next TALK session will be on January 26th.
Check the website for upcoming comedy shows.
Var’s hours are Thursdays from 5 to 10 p.m.; Fridays from 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Mondays from 5 to 10 p.m.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.