The Interview: Lisa Caesar


Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:09 pm

Lisa Caesar   

Chief operating officer

No Studios

1037 W. McKinley Ave., Milwaukee

No Studios, a project of Oscar-winning filmmaker and Milwaukee native John Ridley and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, opened in October 2018. Designed as a creative arts hub, the 40,000-square-foot building at 1037 W. McKinley Ave. includes offices, shared working spaces, a gallery lounge and cocktail bar, a screening room and a performance space. It offers memberships to filmmakers, artists and musicians, which gives them access to those spaces. Reporter Lauren Anderson recently spoke with chief operating officer Lisa Caesar about building the arts hub.

What has gone into getting this off the ground?

“The tenant engagement started long before we bought the building. When I was doing the site selection, which took two years, I started engaging with potential tenants then. Milwaukee Film has been a partner in this project since the concept stage. We were initially looking at buildings in the 20,000-square-foot range, but as the dialogue built, it was clear that it would be too small. So our appetite grew with the feedback I was getting from potential tenants.”

“The physical space is just one aspect, but our programming and events are a really important aspect. What I try to do, now that we have the physical infrastructure set, is to spend as much time outside of the building as possible visiting members. I try to get a sense for what they’re doing in their neighborhoods and spaces, because I think that can inform what we do here.”

What does a day or night here look like these days?

“I would answer first by saying there is no typical night. It’s amazing how different each event is. We have a book signing series. We curate art quarterly and (the artists) come in and do a talk in the screening room. We’ve had rock bands; we’ve had chamber music. Northwestern Mutual has a series of Ted Talk-style events here with the startup community. People are really intent on socializing with purpose here. People are coming here to not be on their phones. They’re coming to enjoy the art, get to know people, actually engage.”

How much time do you spend here versus New York?

“I’ve found the cadence that works best for me is every other week. I find it’s important for me to kind of linger here for a week; spending time in this space has been really productive for me. I meet people, we can have longer conversations, and I think most importantly, I can witness the events. It’s also important to spend time away from here because, being in New York and traveling around, I get really inspired by things that I can bring back to Milwaukee.”

Has the vision for this place evolved as you’ve gone along?

“I would say our vision has largely manifested, but we have found new avenues to explore and enhance our vision. When you have a startup, you get challenged in different ways. One of the challenges is we had great events people weren’t coming to because they didn’t know about them. We tried to address it by onboarding an internal marketing mechanism so what we do now is, if someone puts an event on our calendar, we really try to help them market it. That was something we hadn’t anticipated but it’s worked out well. We’re also onboarding technology and tailoring it to our needs so we will have a fairly sophisticated membership directory and way for members to talk to each other. That creates a more vibrant community, and that’s the piece that will allow us to connect internationally.”

Is the vision for No Studios to incubate arts here or export Milwaukee’s arts scene?

“I don’t think they are mutually exclusive. We definitely want to showcase Milwaukee, and we’ll have a fantastic opportunity to do that with the (2020 Democratic National Convention). It will give Milwaukee a national platform. I think in small and big ways, John (Ridley) is going to leverage his network to showcase Milwaukee, but also bring his network into Milwaukee.” ν

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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