New arts magazine launches from downtown gallery
By Aaron Knapp
Just after graduating from Mount Mary College, local artist Jessica Steeber did not know that she would be an art curator for the next five years. She recalls going to a one-night gallery event with her friend Cassandra Smith, sending her on a new path.
“We went there and looked around,” Steeber remembers. “Everyone was really excited about it, and there was a lot of good energy. We looked at each other and said ‘we could do this.’”
Although the vision of these two young artists has changed, they remain passionate about making art accessible to everyone.
Dozens of local artists and admirers descended on a downtown art gallery, Friday, to see their latest vision -- a new, internationally focused art publication called Fine Line Magazine.
Unlike most art magazines, which contain reviews, previews and biographies, Steeber and Smith want readers to feel like they are seeing Fine Line’s art in person.
“We weren’t very interested in the facts that surround the art,” said Steeber. “We’re more interested in just appreciating the art. So, I think the final product with Fine Line is more or less a gallery in print.”
The inaugural issue features the work of 14 artists from seven different countries. All of the pieces in the issue reflect the theme, “Welcome Home,” which was selected by Smith and Steeber.
Steeber and Smith forged a name for themselves in the Milwaukee art community with a gallery that they formerly owned called, the Armoury. They opened the Armoury in 2008 and closed it a little over a year later after they realized that owning a gallery was not what they thought it would be. The Armoury’s close disappointed fans they had quickly attracted.
Local artist and UWM professor, Marc Tasman says that Milwaukee has lacked a similar magazine for years.
“The closest thing that we had before was the New Art Examiner,” said Tasman, referring to a Chicago-based magazine that stopped publishing in 2002.
From art students to curators
Steeber and Smith, both 27, stayed in Milwaukee after they graduated from local universities. Steeber attended both the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Milwaukee Area Technical College before graduating from Mount Mary with a liberal arts degree. Smith earned a degree in sculpture from the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design in 2006.
The two met while they interned at the same company, and got to know each other over a six-month odyssey through Europe, Asia and Australia. When they finally got home, they left themselves little time to relax.
“We were up for a challenge, having spent six months of travelling,” said Steeber. “The idea of settling into a job and home was kind of boring.”
The two artists became entrepreneurs, and they set about establishing their own gallery.
“We didn’t go into to make money; we didn’t go into it to be art dealers,” said Steeber. “We just wanted to have fun.”
After six months, the young curators realized that keeping the Armoury Gallery afloat required more focus on selling art than they were comfortable with. They kept the gallery open until after a year had passed and then shuttered it in early 2009. The loss of the Armoury was amplified by the closing of several other local galleries, or a low point in a continuous cycle as Smith sees it.
“People get really excited and then they fall off,” said Smith. “I think right now is a good time to be an artist in Milwaukee, because it’s coming back.”
With Fine Line, Steeber and Smith hope they can share talented artists with others without being saleswomen.
“We just want to put out a really good product, and hope that it sells itself,” said Smith. “With the gallery, that didn’t really work as well. So, now we’re hoping that with the magazine that will work a little better.”
Although Steeber and Smith’s fans cannot think of another magazine like Fine Line, the success of this new venture is far from certain.
“It’s fun to hear about new things going on – big risks, and this seems like a big risk,” said UWM graduate and Studio Deep End co-founder Nicholas Reiter. “You’re starting something brand new that’s launching into the unknown, and you don’t know where it’s going to go.”
Wearing casual sweaters that accentuate their thin frames, Steeber and Smith look less like audacious businesswomen, and more like typical college-aged students. They both appear timidly reserved; however, their dedication to Fine Line is clear as they spend the night behind a table, personally selling copies to each customer.
Although they do not look the part, and Smith has recently been laid off, they are confident that they can handle the magazine’s finances. They opened a checking account for the magazine and have put all its costs on credit.
“We researched and funded a six-month trip around the world,” said Steeber. “This task is no more daunting.”
Studio Deep End
Fine Line launched at Studio Deep End, a gallery that is also owned and operated by recently graduated art students. At 315 N. Plankinton Avenue, it lies across the Milwaukee River from the city’s primary art gallery district, the Third Ward.
Studio Deep End, like many other galleries, has reclaimed and modernized an old building (the Pritzlaff), while still preserving some of its venerable majesty. The gallery’s modernly chic white walls and wood paneled floors and ceilings combine with its worn, cream-colored bricks to achieve this seemingly paradoxical effect.
Many were drawn to the launch by an appreciation for Studio Deep End, not knowing much about Fine Line Magazine. In this way, one of Studio Deep End’s co-founders, Carlie Nesgoda, hopes that budding artists can help each other succeed.
“What we’ve tried to do… is create a community for people to be supported within the larger Milwaukee area,” said Nesgoda.
The inaugural issue of Fine Line Magazine can be purchased on their website (http://www.finelinemag.com/home.html) or at other promotional events around Milwaukee in the coming weeks.