After the Fire


This blog has been quiet since the end of May because I had an opportunity to put together a proposal for a major IN:SITE temporary public art initiative.  IN:SITE received key funding for it at the end of June, and I will be posting a lot about the project soon.

Yesterday there was a five-alarm fire in a building where I had studio space.  I lost almost nothing.  It was a meeting space and I had a folding table there and some chairs.

But I do feel a huge loss.

I need to explain what made 631 such a valuable building for me.

631 Center Street is not the Fortress.  Not Hyde House.  Not the Nut Factory.  Although these have all been important spaces to me, 631 was different because it was so integrated into the Riverwest neighborhood.  The strongest recent indication of this was the Riverwest Satellite Day and Night that Ashley Janke organized in the spring of this year.  There were over a dozen events, with three at 631.

631 was an art home to me.  I always knew when I went to 631 that I would run into someone I either wanted or needed to find and talk to.  Walker’s Point Center for the Arts is like this for me too, but 631 in an even more intimate way.

I met Sarah Luther at 631.

In the summer of 2008, she mounted an installation at Green Gallery West called “We Are All Always Moving.”  She had just returned to Milwaukee from Kansas City.  I fell in love with the installation and Sarah all at the same time, especially after I experienced her “Ode to A Coffee Pot.”  Sarah played melodies on the cello while three coffee makers perked.

Since then, I have rarely done any art production without having Sarah involved.  I keep her “Field Guide” series in my purse at all times.

So it was a fulfilling moment for me to become one of the four women sharing studio space in 631 2A with Sarah last fall.  At 58, I need to balance my own art production with art organizing.  631 was going to be a space for me to experiment with performance art pieces and spread out material for collages.  However, the first thing I did was organize.  In January, Theresa Columbus performed in the 2A studio.  The audience was a mix of everyone.  Everyone.  People from five decades of art making in Milwaukee.

On the left side of my my desk I taped Sarah’s quote about failure: “I see failure as a catalyst.  It’s a moment where you are forced to stop and begin again…Survival banks on risk, tenacity, a willingness to fall down, the ability to back up, and an intense drive forward.”

This quote is helping me as I think about the future of the Riverwest art community following the fire.


For added reading, see Mary Louise Schumacher’s story about the fire:!page=1&pageSize=10&sort=newestfirst

And an “Art City” March interview with Sarah:!page=0&pageSize=10&sort=newestfirst

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gary Tuma
    Jul 18, 2012 @ 20:00:36


    When I moved to Milwaukee in 1977, I chose Riverwest as my one and only home. Over these past 35 years, I have personally experienced the arrival and departure of hundreds of folks, many artists, in and out and in again and out again. Sometimes just to stop by for music, beer, dinner or gallery visit. Something about Riverwest tugs at our souls. I still hear back from people who yearn for the type of community spirit that exists here unlike any other place. The future of Riverwest is as bright as ever especially with the energy and creativity of the artist community that called 631 E. Center Street home.



    • Mark Lawson
      Jul 18, 2012 @ 22:20:27

      I think you really got it right Pegi. Its all about people, and what can happen when some sort of dynamic occurs that inspires creativity, dialog, and just plain affection and respect for each other. A genuine community of artists.


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