Arts scholarship honors Summerfest icon and UWM alum Bob Babisch

Bob Babisch | Courtesy of Summerfest

For nearly 50 years, music fans and spectators from around the world benefitted from the work of UWM alum Bob Babisch. As Summerfest’s top talent booker from 1976 to 2022, Babisch brought names such as The Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga, and Prince to Milwaukee’s—and perhaps the world’s—biggest music festival. 

Now in retirement, Babisch (’74 BFA Theatre) is being honored by his former employer, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., and his alma mater with a named scholarship to support Peck School of the Arts students. 

The Bob Babisch Entertainment Legacy Scholarship is awarded to PSOA undergraduate students interested in pursuing the business side of the performing arts. For Babisch, it’s an honor from a university that he praises to this day. 

Bob Babisch | Courtesy of Summerfest

“I love that school,” said Babisch of his time at UWM. “I had the best time of my life there, and it gave me the chance to get where I was and to grow.” 

Babisch’s time at UWM’s School of Fine Arts (renamed to Peck School of the Arts in 1999) was instrumental to his future success. He found the school offered a unique approach to art students, helping them become well-versed in many aspects of the business of the arts. 

“It was the ability to learn all facets of the theater world for me,” said Babisch. “To learn the acting side of it and learn the production side of it… and even some of the marketing side of it. All those pieces came together to create my career for me.” 

Babisch now feels encouraged that other students can receive the same education he did, which he believes is essential to success in a complicated, but exciting, field.  

“Every [student] who [graduates] should know how a contract works, they should know how auditions work, they should know how the unions work,” said Babisch. “They should know it inside and out. That’s an important piece for them and their teachings.”  

The creators of the scholarship hope that it will aid students in achieving their career aspirations while also honoring Bob Babisch’s incredible contributions to the industry. 

“I know there are a lot of kids that come [to UWM], and they need the ability to make the payments, and they don’t have it,” said Babisch. “Having this scholarship and giving it a chance to take all these kids forward into getting possibly what I had. It just brings tears to my eyes.” 

Imanol Ruiz | Submitted photo

 Imanol Ruiz is one of those students.  

At the time he applied, Ruiz needed additional funds to continue his studies at UWM. Upon viewing the scholarships he qualified for, he found the Bob Babisch Entertainment Legacy Scholarship to be a perfect fit. 

As a result, Ruiz graduated debt free, allowing him to explore opportunities in his field. 

“I know a lot of people who graduated college, and they had to get a job that wasn’t part of their major,” said Ruiz. “I didn’t have to do that. I got the chance to wait a bit and view all my options. I didn’t have to worry about the monetary part… I’m very fortunate to get to do what I want to do.” 

Since graduating, Ruiz has been maintaining a business and exploring the Milwaukee film scene while he lays the foundation for his own legacy in the entertainment industry.

“It’s been a lot of going on sets, exploring exactly what I want to do with film,” said Ruiz. “The Milwaukee film world is diverse in its voices and the positions it has. I could always be that filmmaker who does everything, but to specialize in something brings so much opportunity.” 

When it comes to advice that Babisch offers scholarship recipients, he hopes they do not lose sight of the achievement that receiving a scholarship is.  “The money’s one piece of it,” said Babisch. “The other is that they worked their way to get a scholarship, and not that many kids get one of those every year. That’s important to them, and that’s something someone’s going to look at.” 

More about scholarships
To learn more about scholarships at UW-Milwaukee, visit the UWM Scholarship page. For an overview of scholarships offered exclusively to students enrolled in a program at the Peck School of the Arts, visit the PSOA Scholarship page.

Story by Jason McCullum ’25