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Gay Arts Center fills gap in Milwaukee arts community

Just in time to relieve the stress of filing tax forms, the Gallery Night grand opening of Milwaukee's new Gay Arts Center is set for Friday, April 15, offering a broad palette of visual and performing arts.

The city's first arts center dedicated exclusively to gay-relevant visual and performing arts is located in a rugged 19th-century building at 703 S. 2nd St., offering an environment with a fully-windowed façade, 16-foot ceilings mounted with track lighting, hardwood floors and a large stage area. Plenty of light allows for enhanceed viewing of art works as well as a comfortable ambience.

The center's creator, Paul J. Masterson, saw an opening in the arts community and used that as an opportunity for this new establishment. "It is something the city doesn't have, something I believe it needs," he says.

"Another gallery is important to the community," agrees Nancy O'Keefe, executive director of the Historic Third Ward Association, which runs the quarterly Gallery Night series.

Masterson was a volunteer director and curator at the Milwaukee Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center Gallery and co-chaired five Make A Promise galas for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. As a result, he has a strong connection to a core of artists and organizational experience to call upon.

Masterson took advantage of a sudden opportunity to take a vacant gallery space in Walker's Point and transform it into something the Milwaukee art scene needed. And his vision is now a reality, and it's only the start of many things to come.

Masterson says that much is planned for the center, including "Rites of Spring" on April 17 from 4 to 7 p.m., a benefit for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, in conjunction with the inaugural Milwaukee Gay Arts Center Gallery exhibit "Tapestries," which features an AIDS Memorial Quilt and works by Milwaukee artists.

Music will fill the air as members of the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble perform on cello, harpsichord and traverso (flute).

The Gay Arts Center space will also be shared with Queer Life, Wisconsin's LGBT newspaper. According to Q Life's editor, Don Hoffman, this match is a natural bridge between the queer and arts communities.

"We're excited to be supporting this creative venture," Hoffman says. "I hope this arts center will be a meeting place for those who not only create art, but those who enjoy it as well."

The center will be the future home of a 65-seat theater allowing staging suitable for plays and cabaret performances. Ray Bradford's RSVP Productions and Mark Hooker's Uncommon Theatre will both move their operations to the space with the first production scheduled for late March.

Beyond the visual and performing arts, the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center will offer a spectrum of related educational opportunities for community participation including yoga and art classes.

Masterson's mission is clear. "I want to offer artists, groups and organizations of our LBGT community a new and safe venue to showcase their talents."

Artists who would like to participate in future shows are encouraged to contact the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center at

The Gay Arts Center Gallery Night grand opening is Friday, April 15 from 5 to 9 p.m., located at 703 S. 2nd St. Gallery Day will follow on Saturday, April 16, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Refreshments and free evening parking will be available. "Tapestries" runs through May 31 and will be open to the public 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call (414) 383-8200 for more information.


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