Throughout the years, UW-Milwaukee has seen many notable students. In October, the Alumni Association Awards were held at Discovery World, honoring notable past students who are succeeding outside of the classroom. More than 20 UWM alums were awarded because of their professional achievements, civic involvement, and partnerships with the university.
Another award winner, Joise Osborne, didn’t find her home at UW-Milwaukee until she transferred out of UW-Madison. She went home to Alaska to take some time off school to explore her roots, but ended up missing college life. Osborne attended the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, but only spent a year there before she came to UW-Milwaukee in 1981. Osborne now works with the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee and serves on the City of Milwaukee Arts Board.
How was your college experience?
Osborne: I never lived in the res halls on campus. But I ended up living with theater people off campus, both technical theater and actors. It was a colorful cast of characters. One of them started a professional theater company in town after graduating, Theater Tesseract, so we all got involved when there was a production deadline and I got to see quite a bit of good, cutting edge theater. I also started as a gallery guard/assistant at the Union Art Gallery after my first year. That job grew to assistant manager and finally manager. Through that job I got to know many local and regional artists, curated many shows, built my professional and art administrative skills and an extensive creative community. That experience, the community that I had built helped to open doors beyond graduation.
What stands out to you about UWM?
Osborne: My parents were both in creative fields (Dad was an architect and mom was an elementary art teacher). But even so, as parents they were trying to encourage me to graduate in 4 years, get a good secure job working for some large corporation and settle down (they wanted me to have financial security). After I declared an art major officially I told my mother and she was a little upset with me, worried that I wasn’t making a practical decision, prolonging graduation, etc. I then nervously called my more critical dad and told him the news (they were separated) and he said “Honey, I am really proud of you for making that decision.” He died a few months later. But it meant a lot to have his blessing and that next semester I was awarded a Layton scholarship for my studio work. It felt like I was headed down the right path.
How has UWM influenced your career?
Osborne: As I said, because I was involved in things both in the department and in Union Programming, student organizations and I built a large network of art and design professionals while at UWM (some who were already professionals in their field, some who were faculty, some who were peers or graduate students in Art or Art History at the time). They knew who I was and that I was passionate about my work and I knew who they were. Many of us stayed in contact post-graduation. We attended art openings, traveled together to Chicago, NYC, etc. Shared studio spaces beyond school. I also had faculty who mentored me well and that helped me better understand how to function professionally outside of school. I took a Pre-Columbian Art History class that made me want to travel to south/central America, which I did with a friend after graduation. I continued to attend theatrical and dance performances beyond graduation…both on campus and out in the world. So, yes, it all influenced my career choice. But my career initially was not a direct path. I worked numerous different jobs, some creative jobs that built my resume/CV and some less creative but practical. Through that time I maintained a studio and exhibited regularly but worked for a company that was NYC based, selling art prints, taught art classes for kids part time for a few organizations, did grass-roots organizing for Wisconsin Citizen Action and numerous creative free-lance gigs. I finally went to graduate school at UW-Madison to get my MFA 6 years after graduating from undergrad.
Do you have any advice for current students?
Osborne: Being on a university campus like UW-Milwaukee is so much more than being in class. Along with your physical degree you should be taking advantage of all of the opportunities and resources available to you. That is part of what your tuition pays for and if you don’t own it, learn from it, grow from it, you are short changing yourself–and it is no one’s fault but your own. Take out your earbuds/head phones and talk to people. Get to know your faculty early on and let them know what your interests are. They can help if they know you. But you should take charge of putting yourself on their radar as a bright star. Don’t just go to things, push yourself to talk to people. Get involved in productive student organizations that expand your horizons. Get on-campus and off-campus jobs and internships related to your field of interest to build your resume before you graduate. You will be more confident, more passionate, and ultimately have more fun as a result. Just joining a fraternity or sorority is not enough. Often that even gets in the way or your professional and personal growth, from what I have seen. Be an individual. Stand out for good reasons. Don’t just go with the flow or blend in with the crowd.
Was there a specific professor who challenged you?
Osborne: There were many who challenged and influenced me. In Art History Barry Wind was a big influence on me and encouraged my art writing and research. He took me seriously. In Studio Art Adolph Rosenblatt, Larry Rathsack, Tony Stoeveken and numerous others influenced and encouraged me. Adolph Rosenblatt really encouraged me and took me under his wing even after graduation. He was a character, a genuinely kind and thoughtful person, but also very active as an artist and a mentor who modeled a creative life for many of us.
What was your favorite campus hangout spot?
Osborne: I spent a lot of time in the Union Art Gallery, even when we weren’t working there. We held student org meetings there, had events for arts organizations there and people would find me there. I also had an advanced studio space on the third floor of Mitchell Hall. We had 24/7 access to our studios, so it was a place that I spent a great deal of time with my fellow art major friends/studio mates. I also swam almost everyday at Klotsche, had another circle of friends who were gym buddies and would walk in Downer Woods quite a bit.
What do you love about Milwaukee?
Osborne: I love that Milwaukee is a mid-sized city with a rich history on a beautiful lake, but is also small enough that you can get to know the people in your circles and opportunities are accessible even for new people or emerging artists. Milwaukee is quirky, cool and fun. People are pretty friendly. Cost of living is not so high, not like major cities on the east or west coast. Young people can still buy buildings, open galleries, rent studio space, park a car, get involved in arts organizations, make a difference. Opportunities to do cool things are accessible to new/emerging artists, designers, musicians, theater folks, dancers. People may want to leave to do things elsewhere, but I also know many, like myself, who have come back after time away.
I love Riverwest and that is where my wife and I have chosen to live and make our home. It has the beautiful woodland along the river with rough trails where you can forget you are in the city. But it is also close to UWM and downtown. You can hop on the bike trail and be down at the lake front and the Milwaukee Art Museum in a matter of 15 minutes. It is also home to places like Woodland Pattern Literary Center, which is nationally known but a well kept secret locally. Poets and writers, musicians and artists come in from all over the country to visit Woodland Pattern. The Jazz Gallery, run by Riverwest Artist Association is another cool creative space in Riverwest. But the whole neighborhood is teeming with creative energy (filmmakers, good restaurants and coffee roasting/beer brewing, Riverwest 24 bike race with its many creative checkpoints, Public House Cooperative bar, etc..
I also love the Marshall Building in the Third Ward as a creative incubator space…with galleries and artist studios. It is always an exciting place to visit.
I spend a lot of time at UWM. There is always something going on. Right now the LGBT Film Festival is in full swing. So many good things every week.
What was your alumni award for?
Osborne: My award was called Panther Pride Volunteer Award. I think that I was nominated because I am involved in many, many organizations and causes. I serve on many boards, have been involved in the alumni association, have actively mentored students (beyond my job as First Year Program Director) throughout their time at UWM and beyond graduation.
I was president of the LGBT+ Alumni Chapter for 3 years and am now the secretary of that chapter. While doing that we dramatically increased our membership and visibility. We also started a scholarship fund. I am also Secretary of the Woodland Pattern Board of Directors and serve on numerous art related Advisory Boards for non-profits in the region. So, all of those things together, while no single one of them is a big accomplishment, have added up.