Young Milwaukeeans learn about Korean folk songs and to play Korean drums at a recent class.
Young Milwaukeeans learn about Korean folk songs and to play Korean drums at a recent class.

Walker's Point Center for the Arts turns 30 today, celebration begins next week

Though the celebrations won’t really kick in for another week or so, today is 30th anniversary of the incorporation as a nonprofit organization of the Walker’s Point Center for the Arts, 839 S. 5th St., and that definitely seems worthy of note.

For three decades, WPCA has been a leader in arts education for youth in Milwaukee. I speak from experience when I say that the center’s programming for kids is fun, engaging and culturally expansive.

Kids can learn to draw and paint, certainly, but also to make animations and to make and perform on Korean drums.

All of this in a gorgeous historic Walker’s Point building that houses a gallery on the first floor.

At a time when arts education in school seems to always be under fire and scrambling for resources, what organizations like WPCA do is priceless. And the fact that the classes for kids have what might be described as an almost nominal fee is important in terms of access to all Milwaukee families.

I’ll step down from my bully pulpit now and say that WPCA kicks off a year-long 30th birthday exhibition on Friday, April 14.

"Turning 30 means that there have been thousands of people who have contributed to our growth," says WPCA’s Howard Leu. "Being around for three decades as an arts nonprofit shows that what we provide to the community is needed. This is a good time to examine what we've done really well and what we can improve on going forward.

"We also take this opportunity to reflect on the people that carried us here. We've been in Walker's Point for 30 years. We see ourselves as a service to this community as well as an anchor in this fast growing art district. We purchased our building in 2010, knowing that we'll be here for a while. We're looking towards the next 30 years."

WPCA was founded by a group of artists, entrepreneurs and curators, says Leu, in response to a need for exhibition and performance space in the city.

"The nonprofit was incorporated on April 6, 1987. The first exhibition opened nearly six months later on Sept. 26, which featured paintings by renowned painter Dennis Nechvatal," Leu wrote in a news release.

"The opening reception featured Nechvatal live painting while musician Brian Ritchie, of the Violent Femmes, played music. Milwaukee Journal’s James Auer nicknamed the event ‘Rock ‘n’ Roil, Ritchie and Oil’ in his Sept. 25, 1987 preview. Since then, we’ve had hundreds of inspiring exhibitions and worked with thousands of artists. There’s a lot to celebrate."

Among the artists joining in the celebratory exhibition, called "Thirty," are Dennis Nechvatal, who was the first artist exhibited at WPCA in 1987, Valerie Christell, a former WPCA administrator, former WPCA staff member Dorota Biczel Nelson, longtime board member Jose Chavez and WPCA intern German Gomez.

Other represented artists include Della Wells, Roy Staab, Leon Travanti, Fred Stonehouse, Demitra Copoulous and others.

"‘Thirty’ features 30 artists who have had significant contribution to WPCA and the local art community in the past 30 years," Leu continued. "The list of artists reflects not only the significance of WPCA’s expansive history in visual/experimental/performance art, but also our growth alongside these artists and the art community as a whole.

"Many of these artists have received local and national accolades. Many have played pivotal roles in building the vibrant art community we have today. ‘Thirty’ is homage to where we come from, the bright memories and who we are at 30."

There will be an opening reception on spring Gallery Night, Friday, April 21, from 5 to 9 p.m. Join in the celebration of the great Milwaukee treasure that is Walker’s Point Center for the Arts.

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