Forget Paris on the Seine. I’ll Take the Louvre on Lake Michigan

by John Bloner, Jr.

Would you rather have a brat or a baguette? A Kouign-amann or a Kringle? Paris with its Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo is 4,100 miles away from here, and who needs the Louvre Museum when you can experience fine art (and engage in much more) at the Louvre on Lake Michigan, better known as Spectrum School of the Arts and Gallery? Spectrum is located within the historic DeKoven Center campus in Racine, WI at 2050 Wisconsin Avenue and has served southeastern Wisconsin with culture, education, entertainment, and fellowship for over 40 years.

Just like its French cousin, Spectrum Gallery has its own Salle Rouge – a red room – showcasing some of its collection. Other areas include the Lake Room for temporary exhibits and public performances, the Rainbow Room for classes and meetings, and the Porcelain Gallery, where you can answer nature’s call and look at art at the same time.

Spectrum, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1980 by Denise Zingg, who continues to serve as its director. The school began in DeKoven’s east building’s basement and built its presence over a span of 15 years. The gallery opened in 1995.

In the tradition of Mary Cassatt, her cousin Robert Henri, and other progressive artists, Spectrum Gallery does not rely on juries or contests to showcase the work of its artistic community; instead it respects and empowers artists to select their own artwork for exhibition.

Take advantage of affordable classes for adults in art journaling, multi-media drawing, plein-air painting and drawing, studio painting, digital SLR photography, and Japanese-style (Raku) ceramics. Private art and music lessons for children and adults are also available. To register, please call (262) 634-4345.

Until ten years ago, I hadn’t heard of Spectrum, even though I often passed by DeKoven Center on my way to downtown Racine. Since then, my heart’s been filled and my eyes have been opened to the many ways in which Spectrum empowers artists, visual and performing, and builds the quality-of-life for Racine and surrounding communities.

If that sounds too high-minded, think instead of Spectrum as a cool place to hang out, feel the lake breeze through the east windows, catch up with friends, meet some new ones, and satisfy your creative impulse.

Here’s a short list of Spectrum’s amenities (I’m sure there are some I’ve missed):

Offers individualized visual art, photography, ceramics, and music instruction, both in small group settings and through individualized private teaching.

Provides a venue for live music and poetry readings, hosted by Family Power Music,

Serves as a gathering place, event and meeting location for the Root River Poets and for the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program, as well as serving as fiscal sponsor for the Poets Laureate Program

Creates and donates ceramic bowls to Empty Bowls Racine, whose focus is to feed the hungry.

Partners with the DeKoven Center on its bi-annual Creative Space retreats, where writers, artists, musicians, and other creative individuals spend a long weekend on campus to concentrate on their endeavors. Meals are included in event rates. 

Works with several local groups offering art therapy

Showcases the work of its members and community groups through art exhibitions, including a July 2021 show by the Krazines.

Spectrum has invited my art-making and creative-writing group, the Krazines (Kenosha/Racine Area Zines) to display the work of many of our members during the month of July, including an opening night event on Friday, July 2, 2021 from 4-8pm.

Visitors to this free event on First Friday in Racine can take in the work of over a dozen artists, enjoy complimentary refreshments, and learn about both Spectrum and the Krazines.

I was thrilled when Spectrum reached out to provide an invitation for my group to showcase their work on the gallery’s walls. I hope you can stop by to view the exhibit, either on opening night or on any weekend in July. Spectrum is open Saturdays and Sundays from 11am-4pm and by appointment. Admission is free.

The Krazines show isn’t the only event taking place at Spectrum and on the DeKoven Center grounds this year. Check out these events:

Creatives Reunion at Spectrum, Sunday, July 18, 2021, Noon-4pm

It was a long and lonely 2020 and the first few months of 2021 were pretty lonely, too. Many creatives were stuck on Zoom calls or in their basements, unable to gather with anyone who could provide a creative spark. Spectrum School and Gallery wants to bring everyone together to commiserate about the past while getting excited about the future. This is a free event.

Racine Art Guild’s Starving Artists Juried Fair, August 1. 2021 from 9am to 4pm.

The Racine Art Guild’s Starving Artist Fair features the work of over 110 artists. Nearly every medium of original art is represented in show, ranging from painting, photography, ceramics, glass, mixed media, metalwork, fine jewelry making and more. Proceeds of the fair support the Racine Art Guild College Scholarship Fund which awards up to four $1,000 scholarships annually to local artists pursuing a degree in fine art.

Plein Air Art Festival at DeKoven, September 5-6, 2021

The DeKoven Center website only provides the dates of this event at the time this article was posted. Check for updates on their website.

Artery at Spectrum, Fall 2021

Artery is an annual event in which writers, visual artist, musicians, other creatives respond to each other’s work. The results are presented to the public in a Fall exhibition. Date TBA.

Root River Poets – Workshops and Writing Groups

Root River Poets is a working journey-person poetry group, which always welcomes new members from Racine, Kenosha and other areas. For more information contact Stephen Kalmar or Carol Lee Saffioti-Hughes

Back row, from left: Lisa Adamowicz Kless; Debra Hall (Racine Poet Laureate); Theonita Cox; Joseph Engel (Kenosha Poet Laureate); Jessie Lynn McMains; Darin Zimpel; Stephen Kalmar II; Kenyatta Turner; John Bloner, Jr. Front row, from left: Jean Preston; Nick Ramsey; Esteban Colon

My introduction to Spectrum School and Gallery came through my involvement in the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program. I co-founded this program in 2011 when Kenosha poet Angie Aker and Racine poets Darin Zimpel and Stephen Kalmar II were inducted as the first Poets Laureate for this region. In 2018, Spectrum became the fiscal sponsor of the Program, thanks to Denise Zingg, Spectrum’s director, and through Stephen Kalmar II, past president of the Program and advocate and devoted volunteer at the school and gallery.

Stephen Kalmar II, performing his work at Fusion performance space in Kenosha

Stephen shared his story with me on how he arrived at Spectrum and offered his perspective on its role in shaping his life.

He writes, “I became involved with Spectrum when I was a student, well, when I attended classes (most times) at UW-Parkside in the late 1970s early 1980s. When I worked as a writer and photographer for the school paper, I wanted to use Spectrum’s darkroom, so I offered to paint it – in any color, just like the Model T, as long as it was black – in exchange for the opportunity to develop my photos.”

“I’m amazed at the creative culture that Denise [Zingg] encourages. I remember when I first spent time at Spectrum, feeling that it was a place for me to be myself, personally and creatively. My work would not so much be judged, as supported. Some of my best memories revolve around Artery; there were years when we did it bi-annually, and I recall that in 2016 Denise made a series of posters for each poem-and-art combination. She printed and distributed them to participants. The amount of commitment that Denise has brought to the Artery program (well, to every program and project at Spectrum), her energy and optimism is truly otherworldly (and I’m saying this as an atheist.)”

I’m saddened that Spectrum and Denise do not receive the community appreciation they deserve. Whenever I encounter new arrivals at this space, I witness their amazement, as they can see the quality of effort and passion delivered to each aspect of this place.”

I hope if you’re in the area, you’ll plan a visit to Spectrum (and the DeKoven Center grounds). Denise and the volunteers there would love to see you.

Thanks for reading and stop back next week. My posts drop every Thursday through the end of this month.

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