Creatives band together to benefit art programs in Milwaukee schools

By Joey Grihalva

Milwaukee’s largest locally-focused music and arts festival Arte Para Todos (“Art For Everyone”) returns this weekend.

In its third year, the festival hosts nearly 100 Wisconsin musicians who perform at 26 venues from Thursday, April 27, to Sunday, April 30.  

The festival was founded in 2015 as a response to the underfunding of art and music programs in Milwaukee schools. APT has raised nearly $40,000 in its first two years, which has been donated directly to local art programs.

In addition, the festival has brought musicians into schools for exclusive performances and talkbacks, featured live art, backdrops, a poster series, and student art.

Each day the festival takes place in a different neighborhood and puts an emphasis on mixed-genre lineups, encouraging musical discovery and a vibrant, diverse atmosphere.

Arte Para Todos is an all-volunteer endeavor, with bands, artists, organizers, and venues donating their time and energy. (Full disclosure, I am on the organizing team.)

In anticipation of Arte Para Todos, I spoke with several organizers and musicians about what makes APT a unique festival and the importance of exposing youth to art and music programs in school.

(More information and festival passes are available by clicking here.  Listen to the 2017 festival compilation here.)

Why did you start Arte Para Todos?

The Fatty Acids at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

JOSH EVERT (co-founder and musician, The Fatty Acids): A lot of schools are facing this really difficult decision, which is do they cut arts when they have budget shortfalls or do they cut from elsewhere? And a lot of the time, unfortunately, the choice is to cut arts. But what we keep hearing from teachers is that the arts are not expendable.

There are students that have a tough time with math, science, and reading, but they excel in the arts, and once you take that away, that’s cutting them off from any potential for success in a lot of cases. So it’s not fair for the kids and it’s not fair for the teachers that rely on that to keep some of their kids engaged.

What makes APT a special festival?

Tigernite at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

AMELINDA BURICH (organizer and musician, Rose of the West, Winter Bear): It’s been amazing that there’s organization happening, but it’s mostly just thanking and saying ‘Yes’ to a whole bunch of people that are really supportive and want to be a part of something. There are all these bands that are willing to play for free and there are all kinds of genres and all different ages and backgrounds. The venues involved are all different people and they all donated their time and space. I think it’s just an entire community coming together to help another part of the community that’s underserved.

What are some reasons kids should be exposed to music and art?

JOSH EVERT: I think that the arts are essential for learning empathy. If you can relate to someone else’s music, if you can relate to someone else’s paintings, if you can relate to someone else’s screenplay, then you’ll be able to understand their culture and experience a little better, you’ll be able to understand where they’re coming from, and ideally, you’ll be able to empathize with them.

Lex Allen at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

KIRAN VEDULA (musician, New Age Narcissism): There are a lot of reasons why kids should have access to the arts. It’s funny to me that we have to keep reminding ourselves why the arts are important. To me, it’s just so much a part of life, like the overall process of life; human emotion and everything. What’s so exciting about it, is it gives you an opportunity to actually express yourself. It gives you a voice, it gives you an outlet for all types of energy that’s inside of you that would have no other way of coming out.

CHRISTOPHER PORTERFIELD (musician, Field Report): The arts are the way we discover the world. That’s how we make sense of where we are and what the rest of the world is like. The arts enrich our lives and our experiences. They provide context and make you feel stuff and allow you to do stuff that feels good and meet new people. All those things are so, so important and it goes so far beyond what you can learn in a regular classroom.

Bo Triplex and Queen Tut at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

RORY FERREIRA (musician, Ruby Yacht): For me, before discovering theater in high school, I really felt like I didn’t have purpose or worth. I’m not a physical person, so sports were really never a big thing for me. And while I’m smart, I’m not really intellectual. I didn’t want to study. For a kid, especially in our society, which is really just preparing you to exploit yourself as labor for money, I just felt lost before getting involved in theater. There I discovered I could speak like other people and adopt a whole new persona. It definitely gave me confidence to go into the world and make a mark on it.

You were involved in the first APT festival. What was that experience like for you?

RORY FERREIRA: To me, it had the trappings of a pretty essential Milwaukee event. It was very loving. It was a community of musicians gathering to achieve an important end. To be real with you, I had just moved back, so I was kind of overwhelmed. It was a good experience. It was something I was honored to be a part of.

Student art.