One of our favorite things to do in Sheboygan includes visiting the John Michael Kohler Arts Center (JMKAC), a FREE art museum showcasing contemporary artwork in a wide variety of media. Founded in 1967, the center has become a major hub of artistic expression in Wisconsin and worldwide. Visitors to the museum can experience everything from painting and sculpture to performance art and music.
JMKAC has two locations that complement each other – the original in downtown, the Arts Center, and its newest addition, the Art Preserve, on the outskirts of town. Both locations are family-friendly and unique.
The John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s commitment to featuring emerging and up-and-coming artists makes this place extra special. The center also provides residency programs to visiting artists to live and work in Sheboygan and offers the community opportunities to meet and engage with artists from around the world.
Both locations tribute the legacy of Ruth DeYoung Kohler, who is remembered and admired as a tireless champion and art activist of under-recognized artists and art forms, and for most of her career, served as Director of the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. She died in November 2020 at age 79.
INSIDER TIP: Visit the washrooms! Artists carefully designed the bathrooms, which are also fun and interesting works of art! “America’s best bathrooms,” according to ABC’s Good Morning America.
The Arts Center (Downtown Sheboygan)
The Arts Center in Downtown Sheboygan features eight gallery spaces with rotating exhibitions, two performing arts spaces, a cafe, a gift shop, and a hands-on art studio.
The Social STUDIO is an excellent place to reflect after your visit. The space is beautiful with natural light and inviting with collaborative art projects, anyone can try.
INSIDER TIP: You will find many of the exhibitions and programs are organized around a common theme. This is a great way to engage with your group to discuss what you experienced (saw, heard, touched, created) and how it made you feel.
- Ways of Being: January 25, 2022 – October 1, 2023
- Considering Kin (one’s family and relationships): March 7, 2023 – April 21, 2024
Explaining what “ways of being” mean to kids – Often referred to as behaviors, attitudes, characteristics, identity, cultural background, personal values, and social norms that shape their behavior and actions. Various factors, such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, and geographical location, can influence ways of being. It can also evolve as individuals or groups adapt to changing circumstances or societal norms. They are ways of reflecting one’s identity and how one presents themselves to the world.
The Art Preserve
Located just 3 miles from the Art Center, the Art Preserve’s 56,000 square feet on three levels more than 25,000 works of art!
The space is filled with immersive art experiences of artist-built environments (35 in total). After checking in at the front desk, stop and pick up a free art journal and pencil filled with prompts and discussion topics for each space.
INSIDER TIP: Make sure you have enough time to explore here! The space is huge! You’ll need one-hour minimum.
The museum’s longtime director, the late Ruth Kohler was particularly interested in artists who transformed their homes, yards, or things into art. These self-taught artists (and sometimes don’t even consider themselves artists) are often ignored by mainstream art institutions. They found joy or solace, making things they loved with whatever they could find. This type of art is often referred to as vernacular, folk, and naïve art, and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center has one of the world’s largest and best collections of this type of art.
“… She hopes visitors will realize that art is more than just paintings by old masters hanging in gilded frames behind glass cases. It’s anything that brings a little more light and beauty into the world. A handmade figurine you found at a thrift store. A macramé hanging your mom made for you. A doodle a friend scrawled on the back of a piece of scrap paper. There’s no separation between art and life.” – Milwaukee Magazine
To learn more about the center, artists, events, and collection, visit jmkac.org