Milwaukee Talks: ART Milwaukee's Jeremy Fojut
ART Milwaukee's Jeremy Fojut is helping to lead a new charge in Milwaukee. It's one full of creativity and passion, and rooted in Milwaukee's tradition of innovation and hard work.
The organization he helps lead enriches the greater Milwaukee community through arts programming and events Learn more about Fojut and ART Milwaukee in this latest edition of Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: Give me the two-minute Jeremy Fojut story.
Jeremy Fojut: I grew up on the South Side of Milwaukee in a lower middle class family. After finishing up high school in St. Francis, I began working with clients like Microsoft, Sharp, Motorola, AT&T and Canon. Shortly thereafter, I then landed a job with 2Wire in international sales and traveled to 40 countries in 5 years. Despite the great opportunity for travel and the amazing salary, I found I could not ignore my itch to do something for the city of Milwaukee.
With few connections, resources or knowledge of how to start a business I launched ART Milwaukee with the help of my partner Angela Damiani. Two and half years later, we have united with Ian Abston and NEWaukee to create a stronger organization that enriches, empowers and inspires the community through art events and professional development programming. Both ART Milwaukee and NEWaukee are designed to attract and retain Milwaukee's vibrant talent.
In addition to the free community-based programming we provide for our city, we work closely with our local government, nonprofit organizations and corporations to implement our model of building engaged community brand ambassadors.
OMC: Why did you decide to stay here?
JF: I grew up in Milwaukee and, honestly, always thought I would leave. I found a job traveling nationally and internationally and realized how much of a passion I had for changing Milwaukee for the better. I stayed here to move this city forward and be a part of the solution for the problems we face. I could have easily moved to any big city in the world when I was working for those corporations, but most of those cities already have a story, a vision and I would just be another person.
Milwaukee has the big city attitude with the benefits of a small city to build connections fast and grow your ideas.
OMC: Two words you'd use to describe Milwaukee.
JF: Un finished.
OMC: What is ART Milwaukee?
JF: ART Milwaukee is a non-profit organization that enriches, empowers and inspires the community through art programming and events. The goal is to grow the at base and increase investment in artists of all mediums. Our organization focuses on civic engagement, performing and visual arts.
It's funny because someone asked me the other day how did you grow so fast as an organization? I said we grew quickly because everything we do or create is unorthodox – so it goes against the grain and results in people talking about it. Sometimes the things they say are bad sometimes good, but people spread the message for us. In addition, a lot of people believe what we believe that we can change the city through the lens for the arts. I refer to ART Milwaukee as the gateway drug for the arts.
Come get a sample of the arts from our events and programming and dive deeply into whatever you become passionate about theater, dance, film, music or visual arts. If you are an artist participate in our events or projects and grow your personal art business or organization.
OMC: How is the organization funded and operated?
JF: We receive funding through event sponsorship and programming underwriting and a few large fundraisers every year. Additionally, my partners and I own a small consulting agency called Clever Sauce Creative that helps local government, nonprofits and corporations to implement our model of building engaged community brand ambassadors.
Clever helps to fund our non-profit initiatives. We have received grants in the past for projects that can better the city and the art community in a really tangible way, but we do not intend to ever seek grants to support our operations. The goal is to have a self-sustaining non-profit art organization.
OMC: What's next on your slate of events?
JF: We will continue working on our prime events ART Jamboree (this Saturday at the Shops of Grand Avenue), ART Bus, Eastside Music Tour, interACT and Urban Island Beach Party. New events you will see this year are: Collectors Guild, ART64 – an NCAA-type performance painting tournament around the city for one month with major cash prizes for all artists that participate.
OMC: How can Milwaukee become a bigger player in the arts world?
JF: Stop thinking of the art scene the way it was or the way it is supposed to be and start thinking of ways to grow it – to grow the financial resources available and build relationships through collaboration.
OMC: Are there cities that Milwaukee should model its arts sector after? If so, which one(s) and why?
JF: Nope. Milwaukee should define itself. If there is one thing I am sick of it is "well, in New York, or substitute in any other large city." Milwaukee doesn't differentiate itself from any other city if we simply model or compare ourselves.
I consider myself a creative person. One thing I have learned in my time in the professional world is if you start comparing yourself to your competitors you have already lost. Build a brand around experience (not a logo, service or product) and people will gravitate to it. My feeling is Milwaukee should be the art city of experience that creates memories. After all memories are the best assets we have.
OMC: If you had a magic wand, what three things would you change/add to the city?
JF: One, a long-term strategy for solving Milwaukee's segregation problem – we think the arts is a great catalyst for this by the way. Two, our next Calatrava, which I believe, is the ART Island project we are working on. More on that soon. Three, the MECCA floor installation and the full completion of the ARTery project from beINtween.org
OMC: What's your favorite Milwaukee restaurant?
JF: Odd Duck, right now, but I love Centro Café and VIA Downer, as well.
OMC: Define success.
JF: The problem with being a true creative and entrepreneur is success is never achieved. I have this funny feeling that I will be successful from industry standards 20 years from now, but still be looking for the next thing to start and grow. It's a never-ending cycle of always wanting to change your city or solve a problem. If you don't have that drive you are probably just in it for the money. Which is totally fine, but I measure success by changing people's way of thinking or feeling about something.
The most successful thing I believe I ever did is quit my crappy non-culture, brainless job and team up with Angela and Ian to form an organization of care and creativity. There is a reason that Millennials aren't faithful to their businesses, it's because there is no meaning, passionate or culture in their job. It's in at 9 a.m. and out at 5 p.m.
Human resources has been failing for a long time to realize this and it's time for catalytic change and the redefinition of how business invests in community and its talent. That investment needs to be in the community, art and people. If we're able to help contribute this type of mindset change, even in a small way, we'll have been successful.
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