Milwaukee youth arts nonprofit closing its doors after nearly 20 years

Cites lack of infrastructure to support organization

Photo: Express Yourself Milwaukee

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:33 pm

Express Yourself Milwaukee, a nonprofit that provides arts experiences for at-risk youth, announced it is closing after nearly 20 years.

The organization’s board decided to end operations at the end of the year, citing “a lack of ongoing infrastructure to support the organization,” according to an announcement this week.

Express Yourself Milwaukee will hold a daylong celebration Friday with events throughout Milwaukee, concluding with a finale show at its studio at 1300 W. Fond du Lac Ave.

“I am forever grateful for the past 20 years of therapeutic work in our community through Express Yourself Milwaukee and the power of art to transform lives,” said executive director Lori Vance. “I am also grateful for the many talented youth, artists, administrative staff and board members who have continually inspired hope and trust in the roll-up-your-sleeves and make-something-positive-happen brand that Express Yourself has become known for. When we collaborate together, we can make things happen. As EXYOMKE closes its doors, there are still many positive seeds of change and possibility that I see in our community that are supporting our youth to have a healthy childhood.”

The organization, an affiliate of Boston-based Express Yourself, offers arts programming at its studio, as well as schools, other community-based settings and correctional facilities.

Its history traces back to 2001, when Vance, a licensed clinical social worker and art therapist, first connected with the Boston parent organization. Two years later, the Milwaukee organization was incorporated as Express Yourself’s first affiliate chapter.

The program serves young people, ages 7 to 21, nearly all of whom are low-income. More than half are or have been in Milwaukee County’s delinquency and court systems.

The organization has put on annual performances in theaters including Centennial Hall, Marquette University’s Helfaer Theater, Scottish Rites Theater, Alverno’s Pitman Theater and Miller High Life Theater.

It has also provided services in Milwaukee County Juvenile Detention Center, Milwaukee County Accountability Program (an alternative juvenile corrections program) and Shelter Care programs and annual therapeutic art camps at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake.

“I am honored to have been a part of an organization that has created a climate that understands the depths of trauma in families and has responded with the importance of connection and safety, as well as provided a space to create and experience the healing power of the arts,” Vance said. “I look forward to seeing those seeds of life grow in new ways as our community continues to expand our commitment to racial equity and inclusion, trauma-informed care and healing-centered engagement.”

The organization has received financial support from Bader Philanthropies, Forest County Potawatomi Foundation, Grainger Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, Milwaukee Arts Board, MP Systems, MPS Partnership for the Arts and Humanities, Racine Dominican, Wisconsin Arts Board, National Endowment for the Arts, IMPACT 100, the Milwaukee Bucks Foundation, Brewers Community Foundation and Harley-Davidson Foundation.

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