For 50 years, the United Performing Arts Fund has kept the curtains up at performing arts groups throughout the Milwaukee area. Like any successful entrepreneurial effort, a small group of civic leaders created UPAF in 1967 to support the burgeoning performing arts scene that would soon explode with the opening of The Performing Arts Center (now called The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts).
In that first campaign, UPAF raised $650,000 from 2,150 donors. In 2016, UPAF raised a record $12.1 million from more than 22,000 donors.
For a city that often takes a rap for being risk-averse and “late to the party,” the creation of a “united” fund to support the arts was innovative in 1967 and remains a model of efficiency 50 years later.
When UPAF was founded, it was done at a time when great social unrest was gripping the country: the fight for civil rights, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy and the escalation of the Vietnam War, most notably. It was not an easy environment for a new organization to raise money for the performing arts.
But what was true then, holds true today: In times of tumult, the performing arts can serve as a unifier — making us laugh, cry, heal and ponder a shared experience with our fellow audience members. The performing arts, while often thought-provoking, can serve as a hub for respectful debate and problem-solving. That’s why the theme for our anniversary campaign is simply: “Why the Performing Arts Matter.”
While UPAF remains true to its original mission of raising dollars for the performing arts, it also actively promotes the cultural assets of the community, and its monetary allocations to 15 Member Groups and 14 Affiliates have evolved to reflect changes in the marketplace. UPAF now allocates more than $550,000 per year to arts education programming to help mitigate cuts to arts education curriculum in our schools. UPAF’s newest program, UPAF Connect “connects” 10 local nonprofits by bringing audiences with limited accessibility and exposure to the arts to experience Member Group performances. This program is made possible through the generous support of the Brico Fund and other corporate sponsors who share our belief that high-quality performing arts should be accessible to all and that developing new and more diverse audiences will sustain the viability of these performing arts groups long into the future.
Whether you’re giving at your workplace, donating directly to UPAF (at www.upaf.org) or participating in the annual UPAF Ride for the Arts, sponsored by Miller Lite, you deserve applause for making the Milwaukee area a better place to live and work.
By making a gift to UPAF during the 2017 campaign, those dollars donated will be carefully stewarded to assure that the Milwaukee area continues to deliver world-class performances.
In our 50th anniversary year, UPAF remains vital and more relevant than ever thanks to the support of local companies, foundations and individual donors. Its creation and on-going support remains visionary and should give us all a healthy dose of hometown pride. For that, we hope you will support the 2017 campaign, enjoy a performance and then take a well-deserved bow.
Elizabeth Brenner, Alex Kramer and Linda Gorens-Levey are this year’s UPAF Campaign Co-Chairs. Brenner is the former publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Kramer is market leader for the Private Client Reserve at U.S. Bank and Gorens-Levey is a partner with General Capital Group.
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