WVAAA Genesis and Goals

The Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Awards were created to honor those individuals and organizations that have contributed to the wealth of artistic creativity in our state and region. The founders of the WVAAA believe these awards and this website will serve to inform and educate the public about our rich art history and contemporary visual arts culture. This organization is for the future---for the artists, patrons, supporters, teachers, authors, collectors, and appreciators of art. Through these awards, we hope to stimulate discussion and awareness for decades to come.

The creation of the WVAAA has its roots in activities and experiences which began in the 1990's. For decades, until 1995, the Milwaukee Art Museum had supported Wisconsin artists through programs administered out of its Cudahy Gallery. There had been an Assistant Curator for Regional Arts, and both juried and curated exhibits of Wisconsin art within the Cudahy. A vacuum was created when the museum decided to end those programs. This represented a serious loss for the visual arts community, the artists and their supporters.

In 2001-02 an attempt was made by a group of artists, headed by Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors, Inc., to acquire rights from Milwaukee County to use the Old Coast Guard Building, located about one mile north of the Art Museum, as a site to continue the programs of the Cudahy Gallery. The proposal for this project, called The Wisconsin Art Forum and Gallery, was put together using a variety of professional talents. While the site was offered to another organization, the experiences gained in this effort were extremely valuable and stimulated further thought about Wisconsin visual arts.

Among the supporters of the Coast Guard Building Project were the Director of the West Bend Art Museum and the Gallery Director for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters. Communication between WP&S and these two organizations continued.

In the year 2,000 WP&S held its Centennial Exhibit at the West Bend Art Museum, providing a catalyst for research into its 100 year history and the history of Wisconsin art in general. Archives from WBAM and the Milwaukee Public Library were gleaned, and information served to stimulate further consideration about our regional art culture.

A few museums in Wisconsin had the potential as venues for showing exhibitions of Wisconsin's historical artists. Chief among these museums was the West Bend Art Museum, now called the Museum of Wisconsin Art, which had the dual missions of exhibiting work by Carl Von Mar and Wisconsin contemporary art. High quality exhibits of contemporary regional art are also a key component of its ongoing program. The Wisconsin Academy's Watrous Art Gallery in Madison, while concentrating on contemporary state artists, is also dedicated to enhance an awareness of the history and variety of our visual arts culture.

Despite having a large number of professional visual arts venues around the state, there was no focal point, no center of cohesion to promote the importance and distinctive nature of our own visual art and its history. Was there some organizational structure that could be developed to accomplish this goal?

A meeting in 2002 between Gary John Gresl, the President of Wisconsin Painters & Sculptors (now Wisconsin Visual Artists, and Tom Lidtke, Director of the West Bend Art Museum (now the Museum of Wisconsin Art), served as the beginning of serious planning for the WVALAA. Soon thereafter the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters came on board as one of the three founding institution, and the Articles of Organization were finalized and the process begun.

A Nominating Committee to be comprised of at least 15 experienced persons was formed to submit nominations for the WVALAA, and to subsequently vote for the candidates. The first year's cycle saw an initial list of approximately 80 persons and organizations submitted. Of those, 50 were finally voted upon, and the first class of 11 recipients was chosen and announced at a special recognition ceremony in May 2004, held at the WBAM.

The Founders of the WVALAA expect this process to go on for decades. The persons and organizations selected as recipients of these awards are deserving of our attention and thanks, and can serve as examples for others to continue efforts on behalf of the visual arts in Wisconsin and the region.

The WVALAA needs an enthusiastic group of supporters to spread the word about this exciting new program, our website, and the recipients of the awards. We welcome your participation in this effort.