What Did You Create Today?

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:

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“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.

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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.

 

The Crumbs of My Shame

I just made a complete fool out of myself for the gazing eyes of the Pfister public, prostate and boy was it tasty.

Call it hubris, call it horrifying, call it so astonishing that you have to shake your head in my general direction. However you slice it, I’m relieved that I have worked through the inevitable so early during my time at the Pfister.

I didn’t split my pants or forget to zip my fly. No wardrobe malfunctions for me; nothing of that ilk. Instead, with no regard for my waistline, I consumed more bar snacks in the Pfister Lobby Lounge and at Blu than any self-respecting middle aged man should ever shove in his mouth.

I love lounging in bars, even though I’m a teetotaler. Though I don’t toss back drinks as I lounge, tadalafil I can eat bar snacks with the best of ‘em. I may be a little late to the party on this one, but, man, oh, man, there are some truly irresistible bar snacks lurking around the Pfister.

At the end of a busy day, I siddled up to a seat at the Lobby Lounge bar and, Mr. Excitement that I am, ordered a glass of ice water. I felt great as I sipped away at my cold and refreshing drink. There is nothing better at the end of the day than a nice crisp, clear, clean glass of water.

I’m lying, of course. Water is kind of boring. But it’s so good for me, and a man of my advancing years and baldness really must think about not drinking a 14th cup of coffee at the end of the day. Water is safe. No one has ever gotten into a bar fight because of overdoing it on H20.

Feeling like the model of health with my tasteless beverage, cialis I noticed a gentleman who took a place a few seats away from me and ordered two cocktails, one for himself and the other one for…well, for himself. Looking at the poor fella, it was clear to me that he had had a heck of a day. He was clearly in for the night and certainly seemed to be the perfect candidate to enjoy a couple of expertly mixed drinks before retiring to the comfort of his room.

I had chatted a bit with the bartender Katrina as I sat down, and with her great personality, warm heart and smile, she confirmed that everyone who works to serve the Pfister’s guests is delightful and charming. As the two-drink guy down the bar started to chat her up in a pretty friendly way, I was impressed with how she was able to redirect his cute come-ons into a fun conversation. It made the atmosphere at the bar even merrier than it naturally is on any given day.

It was a happy time, and my joy ramped up when I glanced down at the bar and saw for the first time the Holy Trinity of bar snacks in front of me. Triple snack choices were there before me in a silver container separated into three distinct bowls. In one, there was an assortment of crackers, in another, some sweet and salty nuts, and in the final, a mix of rice crackers, smoked almonds, wasabi peas, dried cranberries and other miracle bits so delicious that I almost faint thinking about them.

I reached into the bowl and grabbed out a tiny bit of the nuts. “Oh, my goodness,” I thought. “This is phenomenal.” My hand shot into the other bowls. Rapture. Bliss. It was heaven.

Something happens to me when I encounter a delicious snack. The rest of the world fades away. This is precisely what occured as I got cozy with the Pfister’s bar snacks for the very first time. There, in full view of the public, I showed myself for what I really am—a snack addict of the highest degree.

Mind you, I was sitting next to a man who had just ordered two drinks, seemed beaten down by the day, and was making goo goo eyes at the bartender. A stranger coming upon this scene might have thought, “Oh, poor guy…that’s a little sad.” But, no…this guy had pulled it together. He was suave, in control, not abusing alcohol, but slowly savoring his drinks while having a delightful chat with our bartender. I, on the other hand, was scarfing snacks like a dog and dropping crumbs all over my suit.

As I rapidly emptied the snack bowl, I sensed that the gentleman down the bar was looking at me. It was the sort of look you give a kid who has been given permission to eat all of his or her Halloween candy in one sitting. His eyes said, “Oh, little boy, how sweet that you can fit all of that into your mouth. Good luck to your poor tummy!”

I knew it was time to move on, so I gathered up the pen and notebook I had been writing in while I hypnotically ate all the bar snacks before me. I had to get away, and I was silently grateful that the man next to me seemed concerned that I might start eating my water glass. Crisis averted.

Now when you find yourself unable to stop eating all the delicious bar snacks in the lobby bar at the Pfister but don’t yet want to leave the Pfister, what’s the best thing for your no-will-power self to do? Why go to the Pfister’s other bar, Blu, for a Blutender Celebrity Bartender event where the tips support the United Performing Arts Fund.

I entered Blu and noted that a mime was serving drinks.

Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.
Someone to tell your troubles to over a drink who will never talk back.

Try as I might, I couldn’t get him to speak. I tipped him a few bucks for his steel jawed silence, but I also gave his competitor, a stocky guy wearing a tutu, a few sheckles for style points.

I then settled in to enjoy the view and another glorious glass of locally sourced Great Lakes tap water. My smiling waitress swiftly and promptly brought me a tall glass of water and made me feel like I had just ordered a bottle of the finest French Champagne. She leaned in with a smile as she served me, and as she pulled back, I noticed that along with the glass of water, she had left me another surprise.  A fresh bowl of snacks.

Reflecting back on the moment, I realize now that the smart thing to do would have been to focus all my attention on the mime bartender, the mixologist in the tutu, the gorgeous view from the windows at Blu, or Greg Marcus who was taking a turn at the piano (who, by the way, has some real swinging chops). But the first step towards recognizing you have a problem is to admit that you finished another bowl of snacks in the Blu bar and then said, “Yes, please!” when your bright and attentive waitress offered you what turned out to be your third bowl of snacking delights.

The third bowl just about to be killed.
The third bowl just about to be killed.

My salty fingers and crumb-flecked mouth caught the eyes of the folks enjoying their tony cocktails as they basked in the glorious sun streaked early evening. It wasn’t my worst moment, but I pray that anyone who caught me doing damage to those snacks didn’t think that I was training for a professional eating competition.

This is all to say that the problem is mine, and I own it fully but will lick it somehow. For the rest of you enjoying the Pfister…dig in. Your belly will be glad you did.

Patronage and the Everyman

 

The Campus Theater in Ripon, Wisconsin was the first business opened by company founder, Ben Marcus.

The Medici Family were bankers from Tuscany, Italy. Their initial family monies were made in the textile industry and they were influential in developing the double entry bookkeeping system. During the renaissance they owned Europe’s largest bank.

I’m sure their advances in bookkeeping are fascinating but that is not generally why the Medici name has survived throughout history. The Medicis were great patrons of the arts and sciences. Artists so highly regarded we don’t bother speaking their entire names; Masaccio, Donatello, Brunelleschi, da Vinci, and even Galileo.

The first time I saw a concert in Summerfest’s largest amphitheater I was 15. The headliners were Dave Matthews Band, Blues Traveler, and Ziggy Marley. I won two tickets by being the 14th caller though a radio giveaway. I took a friend from theater camp, and it was the first concert I was allowed to attend without any parents present to shepherd the teenage flock. As I think back, oddly enough, I worked at a Marcus owned KFC at the time.

Yesterday evening the Marcus Corporation kicked off their UPAF fundraising campaign at the Pfister. It was a night of camaraderie, speeches, prizes, and fantastic food and drink. Employees were encouraged to donate to the United Performing Arts Fund, an entity of which the Marcus Family have been patrons for many years. UPAF’s current tagline is, simply, “Life’s better with the arts.”

Mr. Marcus spoke at the event last night. I type this with a bit of a chuckle because their have been three Mr. Marcus’ over the years. Ben Marcus started his company in 1935 by opening a movie theater in Ripon, Wisconsin. His son Steve took the company helm in 1988. In the past few years grandson Greg has taken over as CEO.

Greg Marcus referenced Oklahoma City, where the company operates a lovely historic property called the Skirvin Hotel. He said Oklahoma City recently invested a great deal in their infrastructure and arts and culture community. Mr. Marcus added that this was met with some grousing by the city’s long-time and retired residents. They didn’t view the expenditure as important as they weren’t certain if they’d see the fruits of their monetary seeds. During this dialogue within their city someone asked, in response, if those folks would like to see their grandchildren. The question was met with shrugging and head scratching. Greg explained that, “If you want to see your grandchildren a city needs to be somewhere your children can be gainfully employed and not desire to move to another city. But we can’t have jobs alone, a city requires an active culture worthwhile for residents spread their earnings throughout the community. So, if you don’t want to have to drive to Tulsa, or Dallas, or any other city to see your grandchildren, Oklahoma City needs to be the place your kids want to keep living.”

This type of conversation crosses my mind when I’m at Milwaukee’s Lakefront, one of it’s festivals, or one of our many county parks. These places don’t exist on accident, and we don’t have free and public beaches because the real estate is undesirable. Decades ago, centuries even, people decided that those areas were worthwhile to keep public to increase our collective quality of life. The idea of shared park space was relatively new, as European royalty often enjoyed exclusively any desirable land. Ken Burns’ documentary on the topic was titled, succinctly, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

I may be getting a little off the direct topic, but I see a parallel between patronage toward the arts and the coexistence of natural spaces for us to share. They both require the conclusion, whether by one person or many, that,

“This has value to me.”

Over the last six months, I’ve been able to gather the stories of people traveling through Milwaukee, native Milwaukeeans, and everyone in between. But years before that a few people got together and decided that there is a history, a contemporary living history, that is worth documenting. They decided that Milwaukee and the Pfister Hotel are worth it, and they’ve invited artists and writers in to actively chronicle our contemporary lives within this cream-bricked city. I’ve been lucky to capture a few of these stories, reassemble them, and hand the bouquet back over for you to experience. Whether you’ve been a reader, a hotel guest, a new friend with a story, a conscientious employee…you’ve all acted as patrons.

I look out from Blu’s 23rd floor windows. Summerfest is visible and far to the south in white lettering across a blue background reads The Marcus Amphitheater. The venue in which I saw that first concert the summer before my junior year in high school. Summerfest; that musical playground of my teenage summers. Which someone built just for me and everybody else.

UPAF Artists Among Us – The Final Piece for UPAF

This is the final day of UPAF’s Artists Among Us 16 in 16 by Shelby Keefe. Shelby has been working very hard and creating some absolutely stunning art for these amazing art organizations around Milwaukee. Today, for the grand finale, Shelby uses UPAF itself as the center of her 16th and final piece. She wanted to paint a transfixed audience because UPAF is one of the reasons there is so many artistic performances available for our viewing pleasure. UPAF helps artists get on stage to be appreciated by all of us and Shelby wanted one piece that expressed this idea.

This is the last day of a sixteen-day project. We invite you to catch up with Shelby’s series at her studio or online.

Day 16, UPAF by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 15 Florentine Opera Company

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 15 of 16. Today, buy the Florentine Opera Company is the center of Shelby’s fifteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece.  The reason Shelby chose this image for the Florentine Opera Company is because she loved the obvious drama between the two main characters, Venus and Adonis. She says opera is about both drama and music and the combination of the two is what makes it so special.

This is day fifteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day14, MILW ballet by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 14 Milwaukee Ballet

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 14 of 16. Today, the Milwaukee Ballet is the center of Shelby’s fourteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. The photo from this piece was taken at one of this year’s performances of “The Nutcracker.” Shelby loved the colors from the photo, mainly the warm pink tones from the costumes and the cool blue color in the background. She said the challenge for this piece is the integrated nature of the two central dancers. They form one unit and therefore it will be difficult to distinguish who is who.

This is day fourteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day14, MILW ballet by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 13 Next Act Theatre

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 13 of 16. Today, Next Act Theatre is the center of Shelby’s thirteenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. The photo Shelby used to paint today’s piece features a Next Act Theatre actor in a dynamic pose from a performance of “Seven Stories.” Shelby loved the off-center composition of this shot. She could tell the performance was a lot of fun because of this actor’s theatrical flare, and she wanted to capture this to represent the organization.

This is day thirteen of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 13, NEXT ACT THEATER by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 12 Danceworks, Inc.

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 12 of 16. Today, clinic Danceworks, Inc. is the center of Shelby’s twelfth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. Shelby said the photo for this painting was one of the easiest to choose because of the expressions on the two central dancers faces. She said she wanted to capture the pure joy they express while ballroom dancing.

This is day twelve of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 12, DANCEWORKS by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 11 Present Music

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 11 of 16. Today, rx Present Music is the center of Shelby’s eleventh UPAF Artist Among Us piece. Shelby chose a photo of Present Music musicians performing abstract pieces from a concert she attended and thoroughly enjoyed. She said this photo would be difficult to paint because of all the activity in the fore and background and was excited to take on the challenge.

This is day eleven of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

Day 11, PRESENT MUSIC by pfisterhotel

UPAF Artists Among Us – Day 10 Skylight Music Theatre

We are proud to announce Shelby Keefe is on Day 10 of 16. Today, nurse the Skylight Music Theatre is the center of Shelby’s tenth UPAF Artist Among Us piece. Shelby wanted to get a glimpse into the behind the scenes environment of this theatre company and decided on this picture taken by a Journal Sentinel photographer, capsule Angela Peterson. This photo was taken before a performance of “Music Man” and Shelby liked the excitement of everyone getting ready for the big show.

This is day ten of a sixteen-day project to be completed on March 16th. We invite you to observe and follow Shelby’s creative process at her studio or online. Please check back frequently to see Shelby’s progress.

 

Day 10 Skylight by pfisterhotel