UWM student organization helps make Japanese art exhibit more accessible

Members of the UWM Japanese Cultural Association helped to make Japanese art and culture more accessible so it can be enjoyed by the greater Milwaukee community.

The Warehouse, a private art museum associated with Guardian Fine Art Services, reached out to the UWM Japanese Cultural Association to collaborate on its recent exhibition “Art Japan: 2021-1921”. The exhibition explored 100 years of Japanese art, featuring 126 pieces by 41 artists and includes weavings, paintings, sculptures and more.

The UWM Japanese Cultural Association is a student organization that aims to spread awareness of Japanese traditions and modern culture to the UW-Milwaukee student body and the Milwaukee community at large. Adhering to this mission, officers Madeline Schmidt and Stephanie Aguilar contributed to the exhibition’s art phone project, a cellphone audio guide composed with the help of interested community members.

“It is a rare opportunity to make cultures more accessible,” Schmidt said. “It’s hard to share cultures, especially Japanese and other Eastern cultures, in the Midwest.”

Schmidt and Aguilar each selected a piece of art and recorded their interpretations for the project. Pieces in the exhibitions are assigned a number to which people can dial in on their phones while visiting the gallery, or while listening at home.

“Like poetry, we tend to make art more complicated than it needs to be, and it scares people off,” Aguilar said. “It was cool to be a part of a project that allows people to hear interpretations other than the academically ‘correct’ one. I hope it encourages them to explore the art and culture in any way they want.”

“Making the art more accessible and breaking down barriers to engage with art is why projects like the art phone are important” said Danielle Paswaters, the Warehouse director of exhibitions and collections and also a UWM art history grad student. “It is one of many efforts the museum is making to collaborate with the community, including UWM students.”

“Jan Serr and John Shannon, the Warehouse and Guardian Fine Arts owners, place an emphasis on accessibility,” Paswaters said. “Everything here — admission, events, the art phone — is free to help make it easier for anyone to come see and experience the art.”

Serr, a UWM alum and professional artist, and her husband, Shannon, have a long history of supporting the UWM community. In 2016, Serr and Shannon donated $1 million to the university to renovate the now Jan Serr Art Studio, located in the Kenilworth Square East building.

In addition to collaborating on the art phone, the Japanese Cultural Association helped the Warehouse organize an outdoor Japanese taiko drum performance with the Milwaukee taiko group Hibiki. A donation box was displayed at the event, which the Warehouse tripled and divided up between the performers and the UWM Japanese Cultural Association.

“We wanted to help others access opportunities to explore cultures,” Aguilar said. “It helps us see the similarities we share instead of the differences.”

“Art Japan: 2021-1921” ran through Sept. 24, and was a part of the museum’s trio of Asian art exhibitions. The other two are “India: Photographs (2019),” which closed in late June, and “Jan Serr: Then and Now – Photographs of China” which opens Oct. 15.

Admission to the Warehouse, located at 1635 W. St. Paul Avenue, is free, and visitors can access the parking lot free of charge. The gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

By Lauren Breunig, University Relations