What Did You Create Today?

Posted by on May 18, 2016 | 6 Comments

Everywhere I turn in this cozy room, I encounter a new artist.  

Pamela Anderson, The Pfister’s new Artist-in-Residence, is on the west coast during this event, and her fellow artist, Melissa Dorn Richards, has taken up temporary residence in the studio, carving the thick white paint on her square canvases to re-imagine industrial mop heads in surprising ways.  

But here, in the former space of the upscale Rogers Stevens menswear store that has been transformed for a United Performing Arts Fund (UPAF) event hosted by the Marcus Corporation’s managers, the unsung artists of The Pfister are emerging.

  • The bartender, Luther, creates music, mainly percussion, out of anything he can find, having recently elevated a washboard to create a wicked sound and acquired a tuba (I reminisce about my college girlfriend and I foxtrotting to “Moonlight Serenade” played by a Seattle street musician with a tuba).  We chat about how he’s seeking new creative ventures for himself, much like I am, adventures that will allow him to create for himself and others, especially after years of raising his children and cleaning their creative peanut butter smears off of sofas.
  • Also at the bar is James, a rep from Copper & Kings American Brandy stationed in Butchertown, Louisville, Kentucky, who regales me with a language still foreign to me, but one I would willingly learn: non-chill filtered, copper pot-distillation, pure pot-still, full integrity, extraction, palatability (that last one I get!).  I enjoy his spirited Absinthe Blanche creation, a double-distilled Muscat brandy with traditional absinthe botanicals, and his company’s neighborhood’s namesake, Butchertown Brandy, described on their website as “bad-ass brandy . . . non-chill filtered without adulteration by boisé (oak flavor or infusion), sugar or caramel color for an uncorrupted natural flavor and natural color.”  Of course, I detect all of those characteristics. . . I’m an art connoisseur.
  • Joe from Milwaukee’s own Great Lakes Distillery shares the new Rehorst Barrel Reserve Gin, oak barrel aged to give it a creaminess that complements the botanicals and a golden to amber palette that delights my palate.  I share with him how my friends and I created a couple of summers ago the “Walkers Point Trifecta,” which begins with a tour of the distillery, followed by an affordable meal at Conejito’s Place Mexican Restaurant across the street, and washed down with cocktails at The Yard across the roundabout.  Good times.
  • After a little while, Peter, the Hotel’s food & beverages purchasing manager, is kind enough to introduce himself and engage me about his art: at work, he says, keeping food and beverage costs down is an art, and at home, he claims to “create masterpieces” (out of leftovers, that is).  I don’t doubt his culinary skill.  He wears it like a badge of honor and gets philosophical with me (I love that), agreeing that any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.

So why are all these artists gathered among the emptied wooden clothing racks bedecked with hors d’oeuvres and rows of wines for a cork pull and bottles of spirits for silent auction?  This May 10th event is one of the many UPAF events that are held at the Hotel throughout the year (and one of many just this month!), a testament to the company’s commitment to the arts and artists.  Begun in 1967 to support organizations like the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and the Florentine Opera Company that would be performing in the new Performing Arts Center, UPAF has endured to this day, raising in 2014 over $12 million, due in part to co-chair Peggy Williams-Smith, Senior Vice President of Marcus Hotels & Resorts and SafeHouse Restaurants.  The Pfister Hotel’s commitment to UPAF ensures that “funds to ensure entertainment excellence” are raised, that the performing arts are a continued “regional asset,” and that donor gifts are “responsibly steward[ed].”  

As the Narrator, I have set up a table in the corner with Pfister cocktail napkins and colored Sharpies, with an invitation to join past writers in the esoteric art of napkin brainstorming.  

Prepared to hear from the artists!

Prepared to hear from the artists!

As guests approach my table, I greet them with a series of questions to answer about art, artists, inspiration, and performing.  Guests find some of them easy to answer, confident in their support of the arts and their opinions about why they’re important: How do you define art?  What inspires you?  Other questions stump them, which is my intention.  My favorites, and my go-to questions of the evening, are “How are you an artist?” and “What did you create today?”  I’ve found throughout the years that if we don’t paint or sculpt or play an instrument, most of us don’t consider ourselves to be “artists.”  But, as Peter and I agreed, any time we take nothing and create something, or take something and transform it, we’re making art.  We are artists–all of us.

As an English teacher and lover of word origins, I also share with guests that the word art derives from a Latin word meaning “joint” or “to fit together,” that inspire comes from the Latin “to breathe upon,” “to inflame,” or “to put a spirit into,” and that perform hails from the Old French “to provide completely” and the Middle English “to make dreams come true.”  For me, knowing the etymologies of short words like these that we take for granted opens up new avenues for understanding.  If art is a “joining,” then what is it that it joins?  If inspiration means to “breathe upon,” then who or what is breathing, what is being breathed, and upon whom?  And if every time we perform we’re “providing” something that “makes dreams come true,” well, how cool is that?

The guests’ napkin responses reveal to them and me new ways of thinking about ourselves:


“I provide the world with an open ear.” “I assisted guests with reservations today!” “I try to make someone say Wow every day.”

Before the event comes to a close, I have the pleasure of chatting with Mary and Kathy, guests of Donna, Executive Assistant to the General Manager.


Mary and Kathy, two artists.

At first mild and reserved, these two handsome women proclaim that neither of them is an artist.  However, with a little encouragement and inquiry, Mary tells me that she once took an art class to maintain her teaching certification.  “You wouldn’t believe that I made these things,” referring to the art, in different mediums, that she produced.  “I kept looking at them and saying, ‘Did I make that?’”

Hearing this, Kathy admits, “I guess deep down there’s something in each of us that’s artistic.”  And then she opens up: “A neighbor at my residence invited me to join the drama club.  We do little one-act plays mainly.”  So you are an artist, Kathy.  “Well, not really.”  Mary reminds her that she was the narrator for The Wizard of Oz.  “Oh, yes.  I had to get everyone involved.  And we made our own costumes.”  So you are an artist!  “Well, not really.  I did once play a teenager going out on a date–and then my parents interrupt the date. But I’m not an artist or performer.”

Indeed you are, Kathy.  Indeed you are.


  • Dominic Inouye

    I encourage you to share your OWN answers to my questions about art, artists, performance, and inspiration:

    How do you define art?
    How does art define you?
    How is art a joining, a fitting together?

    How are you an artist?
    What did you create today?

    How are you a performer?
    What do you provide the world?
    What do you produce?
    What have you helped make come true?

    Who or what inspires or inspired you?
    Who or what do you inspire?
    Who or what sustains your daily breath?
    Who or what lights a fire in you?

    • Jennifer

      Today I took my children to an anime convention. Yes, I do personally not get or enjoy this art form. So I found ways to amuse myself. I have alway have said you, yourself, will be the best or worst friend that you will ever have. I tend to find myself amusing, as Dominic, a long time friend will attest to. I dance, sing, and amuse myself often when life seems grim. But I digress, I wandered away from my family and found the most fabulous man in a puffy red fairy suit. I was not shocked or impressed by that until I noticed his red velvet dancing shoes. They were quite beautiful and intricate. I stared perhaps too long at them quite mesmerized. He approached me and said, “I made them myself!” We struck up a lively conversation about the hours he must spent stitching and attaching the ribbons. He asked me questions about being in 4-H in school and sewing my own prom dresses and what it was like to grow up in rural Montana. After the small talk I teared up and told him his shoes reminded me of the children’s story “The twelve dancing princess”, which I had loved as a child. He teared up as well and told me he loved it too. I guess today this stranger and myself connected over a pair of exquisitely hand made red velvet shoes. I read the story to my children tonight, but for me now it has a special heartfelt significance created by someone I would have never guessed had anything I could relate to. Tonight I hope he goes dancing, though it breaks my heart to think of those shoes tattered…

      • Dominic Inouye

        Jennifer, thank you for sharing your story of an unexpected meeting with an unexpected outcome. Your encounter with the red fairy is precious–and a good model for your children!

      • Jennifer Fritz-Millard

        Something to enjoy?…..there is always something to enjoy!!!

  • Christine Henke Mueller

    People who hope to thrive in the conceptual age must understand the connections between diverse, and seemingly separate, disciplines. They must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new.~Daniel PInk

    I create futures–tomorrows wrapped up in tiny 9 year old packages: children full of possibility and joy. I create hope and happiness as children see for themselves their own learning and find in it fulfillment. Dr. David Elkind says, “The art comes from the teacher’s personality, experience, and talents.” My personality is reflective and insightful. Hands on and hearts engaged is my motto. I spend countless hours looking at, and responding to, my “yesterdays”. But all are focused on creating better tomorrows.

    I create the possibility for struggle. Every day I get up and push myself to do that which is difficult: I run on a damaged leg, I search for connection and cohesion, I work to create a better world for all as I create experiences that are inclusive. And I expect the same from my students. Learning is not about achievement, but about understanding that I am part of a cosmic creation~about choice. We find understanding in personal goals that are met and shared with others. Adaptability, complex communication skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, and systems-thinking are the essential skills that I develop.

    I create relativity, expectations, and discovery. When students are allowed to explore the possibilities of their world, all are held to a defined standard, and are supported in their achievement. I create promise. We all hear about the “promise for tomorrow”: adaptability and complex communication skills, non-routine problem solving, self-management, and systems-thinking that are essential in our world. But, how do I create this? One day at a time, with openness and humility, confidence and respect. With a vision for potential and understanding.

    • Dominic Inouye

      I have witnessed your “openness and humility, confidence and respect,” Christine. Confidence = “with faith.” You have faith in your students, your “9 year old packages,” to question, struggle, choose, solve, manage, connect–and they find JOY in all this. I am honored to be your friend and colleague!

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