Milwaukee native, author and Oscar winning screen-writer unveils plan to open building for the city’s arts community
By Thomas E. Mitchell, Jr.
In the creative arts world, the word “NO” is a gut-wrenchingly familiar word for writers, playwrights and actors, even producers who pitch ideas to investors for television, movie and stage ideas.
There is a finality to the word that is hard to swallow, and requires the development of a thick skin and a very short memory.
But the word can also serve as fuel for artists, driving him or her to continue plugging away reworking, reshaping, and re-presenting their artistic creations and ideas until they finally…finally hear the most desired and elusive word in their world: “YES!”
Milwaukee native, author, and Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley has heard his share of “NOs”—more than he probably cares to remember—before finally hearing the word that green-lights dreams.
It’s a word you hear a lot in the art world, said Ridley. “I never took it as a negative.”
In Japan, “No” has a different meaning for artists in that country. It is a root word for “skill,” “talent,” “artistic endeavor.”
“I wanted to do something with duality in meaning,” Ridley said in explaining why he chose the word as the name for his new arts endeavor: NO Studios.
NO Studios will be a hub for the creative arts in downtown Milwaukee. Ridley, along with business partner and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, has purchased a 40,000 square foot building at 1037 W. McKinley Avenue in the newly developed Pabst Brewery Complex.
The building is currently undergoing extensive renovations in order to create a social space dedicated to the creation, curation, and presentation of art. NO Studios is a for-profit venture that aims to become a sustainable model for bringing the arts to the city.
It will include long-term and sort-term office space for local individuals, organizations, and companies in creative fields, a 50-seat screening room, food and beverage services, galleries, as well as a roof-top event space with expansive city views.
The design of the space will be comfortable, open, modern, and inviting, encouraging collaboration among tenants and welcoming diverse communities across the city to celebrate art together.
In addition to serving as a physical space for the creative community and art lovers in the city, NO Studios will present year-round programming that will both provide an opportunity for local artists to present their work as well as bring in renowned artisans and artists working in a variety of creative fields from around the world to share their knowledge and work with Milwaukee audiences.
Ridley believes NO Studios will let Black Milwaukeeans and other groups of color know they have a seat at the arts table. He added he plans to make outreach to communities of color a priority.
“When I was a kid, there was nothing like this at all,” said Ridley. “I want the community to understand this (NO Studios) is not for one kind of person, but all and anyone to share their art and passions.”
With the notoriety and financial success he earned from the Academy Award winning movie, “12 Years a Slave,” in which he won an Oscar for Best Screenplay, Ridley said he wanted to build something positive off of the momentum his Oscar win generated.
Conversations with local artists from a multitude of artistic disciplines revealed to Ridley there was an urgent need for a sizable artistic space to create art, edit and screen films by local companies, and a social space for artists to network with each other and the public.
Thus, the creation of NO Studios.
Ridley said NO Studios isn’t trying to compete with the Milwaukee Art Museum, noting both entities have different missions. For one, the art museum is for and supported by patrons of fine art.
“This (No Studios) is a working space for artists working with a purpose, educating with a purpose and showing (art) with a purpose. I want the space to directly engage with the community.”