The New State is the first sign of an all-ages venue revival in Milwaukee
Community leaders from around Milwaukee and from FREESPACE are trying to make a scene on the west side—a music scene that is—for all ages. An old theater on State street, previously named the Palms Night Club and theState Theater is the future home of The New State: a contemporary, sober music venue, engineering studio and workshop space for artists of all ages.
Theneed for more all-ages music venues in Milwaukee has been a hot topic lately in our buzzing music scene. Anyone involved in local music right now can tell that we're at a pivotal moment for growth. There are initiatives and many people who are trying to make Milwaukee music happen right now, but there are also a lot of things holding us back. One of the biggest ones is our lack of spaces for young people to create and perform music or to simply see a show. The New State wants to change that.
The New State is a redevelopment project lead by the minds, hands and hearts of these Milwaukeeans who are passionate about our cities future in arts education and entertainment: West Side Arts Unlimited, FREESPACE's WebsterX and Janice Vogt, John Hennessy of theHennessy Group, Allyson Nemec ofQuorum Architects, Andrew Parker ofHistoric Concordia Neighbors, Inc., Charles Forsberg ofMammyth Audio, Dima Pochatrev ofUnifi Records and Promise Bruce of V-100.7 FM.
The old State Theater is a historic building on Milwaukee’s near west side that’s in the need of serious renovation aftera fire in 2017. Once it's renovated with the community’s help, The New State Theater will become a hotbed for young artists and performers and will house a combination of non- and for-profit organizations that can teach youth, collaborate with them, offer them jobs or just somewhere to hang out.
The current plan includes a stage with a theater capacity of 415 people (though it can also be converted for smaller shows), professional sound engineering studios by Mammyth Audio, a consignment store and classroom space for workshops with programming by FREESPACE that will focus on modern music (hip hop/rap, electronic), performance skills and professional development as musicians.
The organizers say that they want youth to have access to learn all angles of the music industry: management, engineering, show production, lighting, design, writing and more. But, for those not interested in music as a career, they still want The New State to be a safe place for anyone to simply watch a show, dance and socialize.
Milwaukee has acomplicated history with all-ages venues. Due to many alcohol sales-centered business models, city codes and curfews, it’s hard to make a legitimate club open to minors and then keep it open.
Depending on who you ask, DIY basement shows are alive and well, but they’re literally underground. Sure, The Rave and Turner Hall are all-ages, but due to their larger stage sizes, they aren't usually booking the local talent we're talking about. The summer festival season is a great time to see local artists as an underager, but it's only a couple months out of the year. That pretty much leaves the Miramar Theater as one of the only legitimate all-ages stages in Milwaukee that hosts local acts, though the medium-sized room is still too big for most of our city's budding musicians to fill. Right now, there’s not much in-between The Miramar and a coffee shop. And as long as local music discovery and performances continue to be limited to people over 18 or 21 or to a few small spaces, our scene will also be limited.
The New State's website echoes this:
Milwaukee is enjoying a musical renaissance, but the youth have consistently lacked outlets to explore and hone their crafts. The city’s youth are eager to prove their worth as a new generation of artists and leaders. It’s on us to rise to the occasion and create these desperately needed youth spaces.
For a while in Milwaukee, FREESPACE has been one of the only more intimate all-ages venues for the young music community—except it isn't actually its own venue. Rather, they've been hosting theirshows at theJazz Gallery in Riverwest since 2015.
They host a monthly, all-ages, free music showcase that gives young, local musicians opportunities to perform and learn alongside seasoned Milwaukee artists. The space offers performers and attendees chances to connect and freely engage in their culture, explore and discuss complicated, abstract ideas, questions, comments and concerns about music and beyond it. This is the kind of environment necessary for our young artists, and therefore the music scene, to grow.
FREESPACE has so far presented over 22 showcases, art and music-related events, several film screenings, discussions, community meetings, festivals appearances and more throughout the city. They say that their plan has always been to become a real space. Now, they’re raising money to create one.
The redevelopment project is blueprinted and has been partially funded by grants, but they are looking to crowdfund to meet the rest of their $250,000 goal. West Side Arts Unlimited is taking donations to make it a reality and fulfill the need for a community music space for Milwaukee’s youth.