How a Milwaukee Paint Bar Supports Local Artists

Unlike a restaurant or bar, when you walk in to Splash Studio in the Third Ward, you won’t be greeted by a hostess. Instead, you’ll be welcomed by a staff member as they paint their current, intricate creation. Their blend of vibrant colors and flawless brush strokes will leave you in awe, questioning how you’ll ever be able to achieve that same artwork. If this paint bar isn’t on your Milwaukee bucket list, you need to re-evaluate that list.


This year Marla Hahn, president and co-owner of Splash, looks forward to celebrating four years in Milwaukee—Splash’s only location. She and her husband first opened the paint bar to the public almost four years ago exactly on March 21, 2012. April 18 will mark the anniversary of Splash’s grand opening.


“We really try to make it an adult friendly establishment,” Hahn says. “So that you know when you come with your friends, you’re not going to have a 4-year-old dumping paint on you or running around screaming.”


Splash offers a variety of paint sessions including mini-painting, glow in the dark painting, and 3D painting. However, the paint bar’s signature offering is its three hour session with a local artist. The artist leading does so with an uncomplicated step-by-step process so you can walk away with your own masterpiece regardless of your artistic capabilities.


While still relatively new to Milwaukee, Hahn says word is spreading about Splash and encourages booking reservations for a session because seats sell out fast.


“Everyone that I’ve talked to that has been hesitant about trying a session has come out on the other end with their mind blown,” Hahn says. “Just come on in. We’re going to give you a really fun, relaxing environment. We’re going to give you a beer to chill you out. And we’re going to take you through it step-by-step, make it super easy and just encourage you the whole way. So there’s no judgement, there’s no intimidation.”


While the Splash studio includes a bar with a collection of wines, beers and liquors, Hahn says anyone ages 15 and older can attend a session. Anyone under 18-years-old must be accompanied by an adult.


“People are craving something interesting to do,” Hahn says. “You can go to a bar and sit and have a beer anytime, but to actually be able to paint…and then take it home with you as a souvenir. That’s a really cool experience.”


A fact that is lesser known about Splash is its many contributions to the art community and local artists. Splash has what they call a Splash Studio Library. It includes all the paintings offered during public sessions and each painting is original work commissioned by a local artist.


The Splash staff is entirely comprised of artists in some form—visual painters, metal workers, photographers, and sculptors, among others.


“(Employees) might not be the traditional visual painter, although a lot of them are, but the people who come to us are the people who want to share their passion for art, whether that’s textile art or painting or being on stage,” Hahn says. “Something is important to them about being in an artistic community and that’s a key definer that we look for when we hire our employees.”


Many of the Splash Studio staff members are alumni of Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design. Hahn says she and her husband established a great relationship with MIAD and always attend open houses and gallery shows.


“We’re always kind of looking and seeing what’s going on with the young artists and the up-and-coming alumni,” Hahn says. “We’re always interested in bringing new energy into the space.”


There are studios similar to Splash that offers the same opportunities across the U.S. So what makes Splash different? Hahn says it’s their gallery opportunities. Splash Studio features two different galleries: team shows and solo shows.


Remember the part about a painter greeting you at the door? Once completed, their piece will join the team gallery on the walls of Splash. Each artwork sells for $100 and the proceeds will be divided among team members.


The solo show features original work of local artists and staff members. These pieces also decorate the walls of Splash, in a gallery-like style. These sell for under $100, making them more affordable. While Splash assists with the transaction, all the money goes back to the original artist.


“All of our full-time employees receive full health benefits,” Hahn says. “It’s huge in this industry…it’s just another way that we found that we’re able to support artists and give them an opportunity to do what they love and also have a great life while they’re doing it.”


Splash Studio


184 N. Broadway St.


Milwaukee, WI 53202




Hours: Wednesday: 12:00 p.m.–9:30p.m., Thursday: 12:00 p.m.–10:00 p.m., Friday: 12:00 p.m.–10:30 p.m., Saturday: 10:30 a.m.–11:00 p.m., Sunday: 12:00 p.m.–6:00 p.m.


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