By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published May 10, 2011 at 4:36 PM

As art education becomes non-existent in public schools, the Walker's Point Center for the Arts (WPCA) has stepped up its programming for kids.

The organization bought its current building, 839 S. 5th St., in January 2010, and one of the reasons why executive director Gary Tuma calls this his dream space is because it tripled the art education space.

"Art education funding has been cut from the schools so our art education has taken on a more significant role as we have expanded our off-site programs," says Tuma.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts offers free after school drop-in classes, spring and winter break programs and summer art camps. This year, WPCA is working with 15 schools doing art residencies in visual art, drum making, rhythm, dance and murals.

Drop-in classes are available Tuesday through Friday afternoons, from 3 to 5 p.m. Each day, kids age 6 to 12 can create a "make and take" project with a licensed art teacher and get a healthy snack. No registration is necessary.

Afternoon with Art (AwA) is a program for Milwaukee Public School students and provides afternoon care / art classes from 1 to 5 p.m. when MPS is closed. The cost is $5 for members; $10 for non-members and requires registration.

Summer Art Camps are available to kids ages 6 to 12 years old. There are eight weeks of camp and each week focuses on a different aspect of camp. Parents may sign up for all eight weeks or any combination of weeks. Call for more information.

"Not only do we do art education, our facility hosts performances, student art exhibitions and our main galleries present an array of art reflecting our urban condition, emerging artists and honoring our neighborhood's ethnic history," says Tuma.

The organization is involved in community and artistic events for adults, too. Last weekend, WPCA hosted the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival.

A one-man performance, "One Hot Texican Summer," starring Alvaro Saar Rios will run May 12-15. The show is billed as providing the chance "to share poignant childhood memories filled with kings and queens, jalapeno milkshakes, watermelon seeds, racial identity, a devastating hurricane and lots and lots of ranchera music."

A new gallery show opens May 27, featuring the work of Colin Dickson and Shane Walsh.

"WPCA has always been a place for installation art. Both artists approach their art-making as an attempt to heighten the awareness of the viewer and bring to their attention an understanding of their own perception," says Tuma.

The art center is also the home of the Amigos de Milwaukee Rotary Club and opens their space for community meetings and receptions, including a recent reception for JoCasta Zamarripa, Wisconsin's first Latina State Representative.

"Our alderman holds community meetings here. We are called upon all the time to collaborate and contribute. This morning I was one of the judges for Congresswoman Moore's District art competition," says Tuma.

Twenty-four years ago, WPCA opened as a small storefront gallery on the corner of 5th and National. With the help of 70 volunteers, the center moved on Jan. 28, 2010 after purchasing the new building and officially opened on Spring Gallery Night in April 2010.

"We are closer to our origin. Our new home has been a dream for over 10 years when former board president Robert Ragir established an endowment fund for the purpose of buying a building," says Tuma.

"Through strategic planning, sound fiscal management and tremendous community and member support, our dream has become a reality. The new home has a much better street presence with greater foot traffic. We are now much more noticeable."

Fortunately, according to Tuma, WPCA has not had to rely on art sales to stay in operation. As a non-profit organization, the group relies mostly on foundation and individual support along with contracts through the Milwaukee Public Schools and the City of Milwaukee to help fund the after school art education programming.

"The past few years we have actually increased our income. This is due in part from our purchase of the building and receiving capital support from a number of foundations," says Tuma.

The governor's proposal to significantly reduce funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board would reduce its staff and transfer the Board to the Department of Tourism. This has most local arts groups extremely concerned.

"We are constantly working to inform our community about the value of arts education and the tremendous economic impact the arts have," says Tuma.

Currently, WPCA has two full-time employees and five part-time workers. Four years ago, the group employed only one full-timer and two part-time employees.

Tuma moved to Milwaukee in 1977 to attend graduate school in Urban Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee after receiving an undergraduate degree in Political Science and History from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

In the early '70s, Tuma worked for the 1972 candidacy of George McGovern. He also worked with the United Farm Workers Boycott movement and several other progressive presidential campaigns in the '80s.

Later, Tuma – who calls himself a "grassroots person" – worked as a non-profit administrator as well as in the disability movement and civil rights movement.

Although Tuma is not an artist himself, he has been very active with the arts' community. He was a member of the Riverwest Artists Association and wrote funding grants for the group. He is an avid collector of art and has traveled the wold to view and appreciate art.

"I have lived in Riverwest since moving to Milwaukee and have been active in the cooperative movements including board membership at Gordon Park Food Coop and First Hub Credit Union," says Tuma. "I am now a lifetime member of the Riverwest Public House Cooperative Tavern."

Tuma says, most of all, he loves historic neighborhoods with spirited dwellers.

"I love communities and neighborhoods that embody the history and spirit of their residents. WPCA is that type of organization. From our annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition and parade to our annual member art exhibition to the young spoken word artists who perform and the thousands of young people receiving art education, and the interns from MIAD, Marquette and UWM we are are truly a part of our urban community," he says.

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.