RedLine offers outlet for Milwaukee artists

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RedLine Milwaukee provides guidance to budding artists and local teens.

Milwaukee’s art collection extends very little beyond the wings of its beloved Milwaukee Art Museum. In truth, the city’s canvas has never been all that colorful. Until now.

Milwaukee artists Lori Bauman and Steve Vande Zande are putting in motion the works of a dream born nearly a decade ago. Together, the two founded RedLine Milwaukee, 1422 N. 4th St., an art studio open to the public that strives to restore the importance of art and the impact it can have on a community.

RedLine not only provides design space to aspiring professional artists, but also features exhibits from across the world and serves as an educational resource for local teenagers.

RedLine’s name both signifies the subway Bauman and Vande Zande rode while studying in New York City and dares artists to defy the safety of the “red line” and cross over to take creative risks.

Bauman, a native of Milwaukee who spent her childhood feeling deprived of a creative outlet, said she long wondered why a city this size never offered a sound community arts program — especially for youth.

“We thought there’s no reason one shouldn’t be started here,” Bauman said. “I guess we’ll have to start it ourselves.”

Bauman and Vande Zande hammered out the details over a span of nine years. It took three years alone to pinpoint a location. After beginning to move artists into their individual studio spaces last September, RedLine opened its doors in early October and has been flourishing ever since.

Affiliated with RedLine Denver, a studio in Denver with the same premise, the Milwaukee studio’s purpose remains rooted in its dedication to creating a link between the arts and the community.

“It’s a very layered program, but at the heart of it is the artist,” Bauman said.

Much of RedLine’s efforts emphasize the value of social justice. Not only do its exhibits express underlying themes of social issues, but unique to the center, each artist who rents an individual studio must commit to a minimum of two hours of community service per week.

“We’re trying to educate the community in the value of artists,” Bauman said.

Service projects include a mural-in-progress in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools and a photography assignment with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee.

In return, RedLine provides its resident artists with space to cultivate their talent, offering them a number of workshops led by artists from across the world and fostering their exposure through a summer gallery night.

While RedLine continues to be supportive of its artists and outside exhibits, its main concern pivots around teenagers and the need to acquaint them with the arts.

Now, the studio is expanding the number of projects and programs designed to stimulate the creativity of area teens. With the help of emerging artists and mentors who teach and establish individual goals for teenage participants, Bauman said, RedLine has gone from “dreaming to doing.”

Jeremy Stepien, a part-time education coordinator for some of RedLine’s youth programs, said RedLine helps teenagers gain ground at an early age.

“RedLine offers art opportunities that are not typically available to students until they reach a college level,” Stepien said in an e-mail. “Teens involved in our programs have access to correspond with working artists, visit their studios, and learn about the media they work in.”

In addition to “Teen Nights,” free monthly events offering pizza, art lectures, and hands-on lessons, the studio offers paid internship opportunities and a Teen Resident Program. Its internships involve team projects dealing with social issues based off exhibits at both RedLine and the Milwaukee Art Museum. The resident program pushes teens further into the professional world, granting them their own studio space, advising from the emerging artists and college counseling.

Molly Ryan, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, interns for RedLine. She assists with Teen Nights as well as with fundraising and spreading the word.

“It’s very encouraging to a young Milwaukee artist to be at a place like this,” Ryan said.

She, like Bauman, has long perceived a gap in the city’s art realm.

“I’ve always felt a void in the Milwaukee community,” Ryan said.

Ryan said she hopes RedLine’s work will revitalize the city’s interest in art.

“There’s a little glimmer,” Ryan said.

The studio’s funding comes from several different sources, including public memberships and grants for its educational programs. The facility desperately needs volunteers to assist in everything from maintenance and painting to marketing and working the front desk.

“It’s much bigger than just what’s in this building,” Bauman said.

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