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Humanities During the Pandemic

Walker’s Point Center for the Arts in Milwaukee

For over 30 years, Walker’s Point Center for the Arts has been a vibrant local hub for arts education, exhibitions, and engagement.

 

Today, about 70 percent of Milwaukee’s Walker’s Point neighborhood identifies as Latinx, and many residents live at the poverty level. To WPAC, these are not just demographics. As a deeply community-based organization, the neighborhood and its residents are the foundation for WPAC’s mission.

“To us,” says Executive Director Marcela ‘Xela’ Garcia, “it’s really important to make quality art experiences accessible to people of all racial, social, and economic backgrounds.”

But the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated that mission. One of WPCA’s biggest sources of funding is closely tied to the school system. When the pandemic forced schools to close, that funding disappeared. This spring, WPCA faced a budget shortfall that threatened two of their most essential programs for young people: summer arts camp and a popular arts leadership program.

Garcia applied for and received a CARES grant through Wisconsin Humanities. Now, those funds are supporting three staff salaries—and those staff members are working hard to ensure kids in the neighborhood don’t lose out on summer arts opportunities, especially during a time when they’re struggling with so many other kinds of loss.

”Through these funds,” Garcia said, “we were able to really take a deep breath and exhale, and to adequately plan and prepare for the internship program and prepare folks to interface with online programs for our youth.”

Now the WPCA staff is tackling a new challenge: how to take their arts camps online. It’s a big job, especially because WPCA prioritizes accessibility and equity in its programming. But WPCA’s creative staff members have found innovative ways to make it work, including delivering kits of art materials to campers’ homes.

Garcia points out a surprising silver lining to going digital: online camps have removed barriers that used to prevent some children from attending, such as lack of transportation. This has allowed the organization to reach new neighborhoods. That means this summer, more young people are able to benefit from the organization’s culturally-grounded arts curriculum.

“The approach that we take is to make sure our participants realize that art is not separate from history, that it’s not separate from literature, that it’s not separate even from language.”

-Executive Director Marcela Garcia

That curriculum is very much rooted in the humanities. According to Garcia, “The approach that we take is to make sure our participants realize that art is not separate from history, that it’s not separate from literature, that it’s not separate even from language.” Students practice making art, but they also have important conversations about artists’ identities and their role in the community. Garcia sees WPAC as being “stewards of historical narratives, of space, and community. Because ultimately we see artists as reflecting the reality of the world that they see.”

Besides offering arts education opportunities, WPAC also exhibits artwork by local, national, and international artists. “We always try to have a good pulse on what the community feels is important to showcase,” Garcia says, “as well as making sure there’s representation of underrepresented voices that include marginalized identities. As an organization that is very much BIPOC-led, that centers BIPOC voices, being able to survive this pandemic is going to be a legacy.”

We at Wisconsin Humanities agree, and we’re proud to support Walker’s Point Center for the Arts so that it can continue that legacy for many years to come. Want to learn more about Walker’s Point Center for the Arts? Visit their website at http://wpca-milwaukee.org.

Funding for these grants has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan.