Jill Eikenberry, Michael Tucker
Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker.

We’re delighted to support this year’s United Performing Arts campaign and we’re looking forward to celebrating with the community at the Campaign Finale event on June 13. This campaign, UPAF’s 51st, has been dubbed the “Year of the Artist.” When we were asked to write on this theme, our first reaction was every year should be the year of the artist!

So, what exactly constitutes an artist? Maybe we should start with another question: What exactly is art? That’s easy (yeah, right!) — art is in the eyes or ears of the beholder. There is no right or wrong answer. We can go to a performance or gaze at a visual piece of art and come away with a totally different opinion. We’re both seeing the same performance or painting, but our sensory experience can be totally different. Like a marriage, and especially in the area of art, it’s perfectly acceptable to disagree and hopefully, in these times of tumultuous debate, we can still retain a modicum of civility when it comes to discussing and deliberating on art. When we’ve lost that ability, we as a society could find ourselves in a irretractable position.

Which brings us to UPAF and its year of the artist.

The late actor Charlton Heston had this interesting perspective on the role of an artist: “The actor alone among artists can work only if someone gives him a job. A painter can pump gas all week for a living and then paint masterpieces in his furnished room or back yard. The novelist needs only to earn enough money outside his living to be able to buy pen and paper. But the actor cannot act at all unless someone volunteers, ‘Here’s a part, there’s a stage, go do it!’ It’s a unique frustration.”

Your support of UPAF gives the artist the vital tool he or she needs to perform — the financial resources and that stage. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to enjoy some level of success on the stage and screen cede much of the credit to the vast majority of the artists who are responsible for making the actual performance magic happen behind the scenes.

Where to begin? We can’t act without words, we cannot perform music without composers, we can’t dance without the choreography. But let’s not forget the make-up artist, the set, lighting and sound technicians, the costume and prop masters, and of course the director, whose vision of the work puts all the pieces together. Next time you go to a performance, take a look at the program and note the names of the people behind the curtain and in the administrative offices who collaborate to bring the performance to life. We couldn’t do what we do without them.

The Year of the Artist celebrates the artistry that happens in front of and behind the curtain. By supporting this year’s UPAF campaign (and future campaigns), you’re assuring the future of entertainment excellence in the greater Milwaukee area and celebrating the work of the thousands of artists who truly do enlighten, entertain and inspire.

We look forward to seeing you at the UPAF Finale on June 13.