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Recent alumni co-found city’s ‘most promising’ new galleries

Emily Belknap ’07 and Cassandra Smith ’06 have much in common. They both transferred as fine arts majors to MIAD early in their college career. They are both working and exhibiting artists. But they’re perhaps most linked by their contributions to Milwaukee’s arts scene and the media’s recent description of them and their colleagues as among the city’s “motivated” and “empowered” new gallery owners.

The White Whale Collective

Emily Belknap, who majored in Integrated Studio Arts, co-founded the White Whale Collective in Walker’s Point with eight other MIAD alumni, because, she said, “it’s important to have a goal to work toward and to continue the art and the learning process.”

“For me,” Belknap said, “everything changed when I got to MIAD, and I became much more serious about becoming an artist. But speaking for the group, MIAD gave us the foundation to make work and to have goals, and, for us, the gallery is an important part of that.”

The collective describes itself as “a grouping of Milwaukee-based artists devoted to the display and cultivation of art across media.” Its first exhibition, showing the co-founders’ work, opened to acclaim.

“The work is of a uniformly high standard, reflecting well upon the gallery proprietors’ alma mater,” wrote Graeme Reid of the Museum of Wisconsin Art (for the webzine Susceptible to Images).

Following exhibits included “Mountains and Ant Hills,” which focused on the theme of landscape, and “Where Words Get Stuck,” which switched inward to communication and the body. Primarily a guest-hosted show, the exhibition explored interactivity through a variety of means and media both on and off the wall.

The White Whale recently hosted its sixth show, David Teng and Michael Rea’s one-day artist collaborative, “Gimme Baby Robots,” which has traveled throughout the United States to make its final stop at the gallery.

Belknap said that most shows being planned for 2009 will feature the work of guest artists in addition to that of the co-owners, many of whom participated in September’s juried Hidden River Arts Festival at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center.

Though the collective’s name “is a symbol of seeking something unattainable,” the co-founders seem to have already achieved their goal of continuing to learn as they make and cultivate art across media. In addition to Belknap, they include Emiliano Lake-Hererra (’07 Painting), Allyson Lassiter (’07 Time-Based Media), Kari McIntyre (’07 Painting), Summer Said (’07 Sculpture), Julia Schilling (’08 Sculpture) and Marcus Wichmann (’02 Sculpture).

The White Whale Collective is located at 834 W. National Avenue. Hours are Saturday, noon – 5 p.m. or by appointment through More information is available at

The Armoury Gallery

Cassandra Smith’s MIAD education was “indispensible” to what she does now as co-founder of the Armoury Gallery, described as “one of the most promising galleries to hit the scene in years” by Journal Sentinel art critic Mary Louise Schumacher.

“Learning from MIAD about galleries certainly has helped,” Smith said. “I learned in my senior seminar what to expect when approaching a gallery and the qualities that make for a good gallery.

“Studying art history at MIAD, and being aware of current art trends, is also vital to the work my partner, Jessica Steeber, and I do at the Armoury.” As a sculpture major, Smith broadened her horizons by participating in MIAD’s Mobility Program to study fibers for a semester at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. She also had three semesters of internships, experiences she highly recommends to prospective students. After working for a year as a studio assistant dying fibers for a handcrafted apparel and home goods business, Smith traveled abroad for six months before launching the gallery this year.

Inspired by the Kremlin’s Armoury, which houses Soviet national treasures, Smith describes the Armoury Gallery as showing “art that falls outside the purely decorative. We like to think of ourselves as a little more edgy, a bit more contemporary, and we strive to create a unique dialogue between the art, the artist, the gallery and the viewer.”

Smith and Steeber’s approach, based on extensive online research of potential participating artists, seems to be working. Wrote Schumacher, [T]his venue shows smart work by little-known artists from around the country, paired with emerging Milwaukee artists.”

Shows in 2008 included “Hidden Exposure,” with works by Philadelphia, Madison and Milwaukee artists who “use decoration and distortion in their works to expose elements of life over looked”; and “Garden Variety,” whose Minneapolis and Milwaukee artists “examine our relationships with the physical and imaginary world that surrounds us….”

Planning well into 2009, the Armoury recently launched its Gallery Online, which comprises the Online Exhibition, where viewers can see an entire exhibition, Artist Interviews and Reception Photos.

Smith and Steeber are also the founders of the new Milwaukee Independent Gallery Association (MIGA), “an organization of local galleries working to support each other for the common goal of promoting innovative contemporary art in the Milwaukee area”( Among the nine participating galleries are the White Whale Gallery and the Borg Ward, co-founded by MIAD alum Kevin Soens ’05 to showcase unknown artistic and musical talent (

The Armoury Gallery is located just north of downtown in Milwaukee’s historic Fortress Building at 1718 N. First Street, 3N3. Hours are 12 – 5 p.m. Saturdays or daily by appointment. For more information, visit (