UPAF was established 50 years ago to help ensure that Southeastern Wisconsin’s vibrant and diverse
performing arts cultural continues to thrive, making our region a great place to live, work and play.
UPAF began in 1967 to ensure the financial stability of the organizations that would be performing in the county’s new Performing Arts Center (PAC), which began construction that same year. The founding organization included the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Association of Milwaukee, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Bel Canto Chorus, Florentine Opera Company, Skylight Theatre and Music for Youth. UPAF launched its first campaign, staffed entirely by volunteers.
UPAF achieved its first $1 million success. In 1978, $2 million was raised, in 1985 $3 million was raised, and in 1986 $4 million dollars was raised to support the performing arts.
UPAF Ride for the Arts, which would become UPAF’s signature annual fundraising event began as “Arts Peddlers.” A year later the name of the event changed to “Uecker’s Ride for the Arts.” In 1991, Miller Brewing Company became the title sponsor for the Ride, and the event became known as the “Miller Lite Ride for the Arts.”
UPAF introduced a three-tiered membership structure comprised of Major, Corporate and Associate categories based on criteria including budget size and impact on the community.In 1994, UPAF introduced a grants program to assist non-UPAF members with projects that serve audiences with culturally diverse backgrounds.
Campaign growth reached $8 million. From 1997 to 2000, the Campaign steadily grew, raising more funds each year, reaching $9 million in 1998 and $10 million in 2001.
The UPAF Campaign came in below its goal of $10.5 million at $9.85 million. A study was conducted to address the decline in campaign growth and what Member Groups considered an unfair allocation process. Study results led to a restructuring of the Member Group tier system and a broadening of the UPAF mission to include serving as a community-wide resource for developing the excellence, reputation and impact of the performing arts.
From 2004 to 2008, the Campaign gradually increased the amount of funds raised from $9.98 million to $10.5 million. However, due to the major economic downturn in 2008, UPAF’s 2009 goal was realistically set and met at the decreased amount of $9 million. From 2009 to 2011 UPAF has edged funds raised toward the $10 million mark, raising more than $9.7 million in 2011
Next Generation UPAF, sponsored by We Energies Foundation, was formed as an affinity program whose members are aged 45 and under. They are dedicated to cultivating awareness of, engagement in and philanthropy for UPAF and the performing arts with the next generation of community leaders.
Title sponsor MillerCoors agreed to rebrand the “Miller Lite Ride for the Arts” to “UPAF Ride for the Arts, sponsored by Miller Lite” to increase awareness of UPAF. In 2011, the event benefited from increased interest thanks to new routes across the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge.
A group of local women concerned with the lack of arts education in our schools established UPAF Notable Women in 2011 to raise dollars for arts programming. Today, this donor affinity program now has more than 350 members and is generously sponsored by BMO Harris Bank.
Through the hard work of UPAF’s three outstanding Campaign Co-Chairs, hundreds of volunteers and a dedicated staff, UPAF raised a record-setting $12,059,201 for the 2016 UPAF Campaign which is an increase of 27.3% since 2011.
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