Inside Gener8tor’s Fellowship.art Program, Which Brings Startup Accelerator Model to Visual Arts

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keep local artists working within their communities, rather than leaving the state for outside opportunities, says Anne Katz, executive director of the advocacy group Arts Wisconsin.

“I think it’s great,” Katz says. “It’s really wonderful when we see people actually understanding that investing in the arts is the way forward for Wisconsin. And there’s a lot of different ways to do it, and investing in the future of creative people is one important way.”

Fellowship.art is financed by Milwaukee groups like the Brico Fund, as well as through support from local donors such as Mary Jo and Don Layden, Jr.

Creative license

As program staff characterize it, Fellowship.art’s key differentiators are its entrepreneurial bent and the creative freedom it affords to artists in the program.

Unlike some fellowships, artists participating in Fellowship.art aren’t restricted by many stipulations that dictate how the grant money must be used, da Silva says. Some art fellowships may require artists to produce a new work, but Fellowship.art artists set their own goals, which could center on creating new art or strategizing their next professional move.

And so far in the first session, most of the participants have chosen to focus on the business development side of their work, da Silva says. Funds can be spent by artists on expanding their network of contacts, creating financial models for their business, or investigating market strategies and commercial collaborations, among other uses. During the program, artists are also expected to travel to a new city to meet with other industry professionals and extend their network further.

And if an artist wants free reign to paint during the 12 weeks, they can do that too, da Silva says, as long as it adheres to the program’s objective of advancing the artist’s practice and professional brand.

“We want there to be a lot of flexibility and autonomy around how they spend the money and time, and we want to meet them where they are and help them with those goals,” da Silva says.

Ariana Vaeth, a Milwaukee-based figurative painter in Fellowship.art’s inaugural class, has been using Gener8tor’s mentorship program to help decipher her next career move. A recent graduate of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) who was also awarded the Nohl fellowship, Vaeth has spent a chunk of her time in the accelerator program applying to residencies, drawing up a long-term career plan, and tapping program staff’s expertise to help refine her writing.

The strategic guidance has been valuable and insightful, Vaeth says. And, of course, the free studio space in the Sherman Phoenix hub is an added bonus, she says.

As an artist, “you’re always very grateful to have a large space that you can just work in and not have to worry about the finances of it,” Vaeth (pictured above) notes.

Providing that entrepreneurial and professional development support is where Gener8tor aims to separate itself from other art fellowships. For artists who’ve found success, but are unsure of how to capitalize on it, da Silva sees the accelerator as a vehicle for those individuals to build professional momentum.

And for artists earlier in their careers, like Vaeth, Fellowship.art can help provide some of those fundamental business skills that art school doesn’t traditionally cover, says program associate Monica Miller.

Through Fellowship.art, artists can tackle difficult questions like “How do you maintain a sustainable creative life?” Miller says. “And how do we make choosing an artist’s path something that people can do and pursue as a career choice, specifically in Milwaukee?”

Fellowship.art studio. Photo by Melanie Lawder.

[Top photo of Vaeth by Melanie Lawder.]

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