Art and Soul

For Dan Augustine, creativity is connection and contribution.



“Blue Ribbon Winners”

For Dan Augustine, giving back to the community is key. In addition to mentoring children and young adults with autism at Milwaukee’s Islands of Brilliance, the creative director combines his love of art and appreciation for the Wisconsin Humane Society’s good work into this month’s fundraiser The Sofie Show, named after Augustine’s spirited German shepherd mix, shown here with her proud “dad.”

According to its founder, Dan Augustine, The Sofie Show at Zizzo Group in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward is “the most heartwarming and raucous party on Gallery Night.”

The annual art auction attracts upward of 400 guests who bid on animal-themed art created by more than 20 local artists. And it all began with Augustine’s love for a rescue dog ... and a stashed pile of sketches.

Sofie, Augustine’s German shepherd mix, was 6 months old when she was found roaming the streets in Louisiana. The pup was scheduled to be euthanized, Augustine says, when a good soul rescued her and sent her to the Wisconsin Humane Society. There, the creature stole the heart of Augustine’s wife, Kelly.

Augustine, creative director at West Bend’s EPIC Creative, says he goes to work early every morning so he can relax a bit by drawing in his sketchpad. He tucked a group of animal-themed sketches away in a file cabinet, and the idea for The Sofie Show eventually took hold. His artistically inclined friends heard about his intentions and asked to donate their work too.

In its first year, the show raised $5,000 in less than three hours. Proceeds exceeded $7,000 last year.

“The Sofie Show was a way for me to say ‘thank you’ to the  [Wisconsin] Humane Society by holding this event and donating the proceeds to them,” Augustine says. “Four years later, I’m totally humbled and blown away by it. It could only happen in Milwaukee. It’s that Midwest hospitality and mentality. People are just enthusiastic about helping you.”

Augustine, 37, brings his energy and expertise to other volunteer opportunities too. Lately, he has been mentoring at Islands of Brilliance, a design-centered, experiential learning program for children and young adults living with autism, founded by Mark and Margaret Fairbanks.

Augustine calls Mark one of his idols in the creative world. In fact, he was so intimidated by Fairbanks’ reputation in the advertising industry that he considered him unapproachable, and could not even bring himself to say hello — until he got a call from his hero asking him to teach illustration at Islands of Brilliance workshops.

“I’ve been working with one student in particular,” Augustine says, “and there’s that cliché about the teacher learning from the student, but every time I go, I learn something from her. Now when I work on my sketchpad, I find myself doing something that she taught me.”

Though he has had two pieces published in Commuication Arts magazine, the “bible” of the industry, Augustine does not consider himself an artist. He reserves that title for people who create art full time, “and if they don’t paint something and sell it, they don’t eat.”

Augustine, who holds degrees from both Marquette University and Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, has taught communications subjects at both of those schools and at UW-Milwaukee. He says teaching is on “pause” at the moment, courtesy of the birth of his son, Emmett.

A Doggone Great Cause
The Sofie Show, featuring animal-themed art, Monsters of Grass bluegrass band, Ale Asylum beer

Gallery Night, April 26, 6 p.m.

Zizzo Group, 207 N. Milwaukee St.

Benefits Wisconsin Humane Society

Free, suggested donation $5

Still, Augustine notes, teaching “is probably one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career. One of the best parts about it was my last year at Marquette when I was awarded with Adjunct Teacher of the Year in the Communications Dept. I had no idea I was even nominated. Just listening to the dean rattle off letters that previous students had written about it totally laid me out.”

His surprising, refreshing advice to his students: Take the best break they can afford after graduation. It’s advice he wished he’d been given himself.

“The biggest asset they can have is experience,” Augustine explains. “The more interesting the human being, the more I want to bring them on. It was always fun delivering this monologue to students on the last day of class — go out there and see some tiny piece of the world and when you come back, then come and see me.” MKE