A Milwaukee-based arts organization with roots dating back over 100 years recently launched as a new nonprofit dedicated to supporting independent Wisconsin artists.
is the newest iteration of the organization previously known as the Wisconsin Society of Applied Arts, which was founded in 1916, and later the Wisconsin Designer Crafts Council.
The organization, previously a trade organization, recently secured its 501(c)3 status and changed its name to Wisconsin Craft. Its mission is to support artists by celebrating and promoting their craft and providing professional programming and continuing education to help them run their businesses.
The new organization also will present two signature events, the Morning Glory Art Fair and MKE Fine Craft Studio Tour. The Morning Glory Art Fair, held annually at the Deer District, has previously drawn roughly 12,000 people to downtown Milwaukee. In 2020, it was canceled due to COVID-19 but it made its return last year
. This year’s fair will be held Aug. 13-14.
Jean Wells, president of Wisconsin Craft, said the pandemic catalyzed the organization's restructuring.
“The organization was changing prior to the pandemic. It was aging and, of course, that led to a decline in membership,” Wells said. “… When the pandemic hit, that really changed a lot. We had been talking as a board about how do we grow and change and stay relevant? And who are the next generation of craftspeople in our state?"
Meanwhile, the organization was losing revenue, exacerbated by the cancellation of the fair in 2020.
“We didn’t qualify for grants because we weren’t a nonprofit, and we weren’t necessary a business. So we just realized that we had to do something as soon as possible,” Wells said.
The board decided to start a “fresh organization” with a statewide focus, Wells said. Social media has enabled the organization to grow its reach, particularly to younger artists.
Its roughly 220 members range in age from their early 20s to 90-plus years and represent a variety of media, including ceramics, fiber, enamel, glass, jewelry, leather, metal, photography, wood, sculpture, handmade paper, painting and mixed media.
“The recent push for supporting small business owners, supporting hand-made -- all those things have allowed the next generation of artists to jump in and say ‘maybe I can do that,’” Wells said.
Wisconsin Craft plans to host professional development opportunities focused on topics like accounting and finance, how to use social media and how to sell their products online. It also hosts an online shopping directory
to promote its members’ work
"Fine craft and functional objects in art are really just a great enhancer to daily living and enjoying life," Wells said. "I also think an organization like ours is critical for educating the community about fine craft and artists and how things are made and supporting small business."