A Force of Artists
Artisan Forge Studios goes all in on ambitious art event
When you drive down Clairemont Avenue in Eau Claire, you pass universities, hospitals, restaurants, chain stores, banks, hotels, and a plethora of businesses tucked in front of an expanse of residential neighborhoods. In a way, the strip looks the way a lot of streets do in a lot of other cities. But for Greg Johnson, the owner of Artisan Forge Studios, he sees a multitude of untapped potential for the area as a hotbed for not just business, but also artistry, collaboration, and culture.
That’s why Johnson and the community of makers and artists that create stuff at Artisan Forge have been coining the term “Uptown” for this area of the city. With its proximity to UW-Eau Claire’s upper campus and Chippewa Valley Technical College, the ever-evolving construction of a new Marshfield Clinic, and the boom of travelers on I-94 rumbling nearby, Johnson would like to see the arts and culture that have permeated downtown Eau Claire over the last decade start to shape the culture of Uptown. And it starts at Artisan Forge.
After it opened in 2015, the space has already undergone multiple significant renovation projects. The building consists of an art gallery, several local artists’ studios, and an enormous open warehouse workspace for different makers from metal works to bike wizardry to 3D artists. Its latest round of evolution added a huge two-story complex, which will eventually be filled to the brim with more individual workspaces for different makers like Token Jewelry and Eau Claire Custom Stone. There’s also plans for a café that will serve food, beer, and wine, a courtyard adorned with 3D art, a community kiln for different local potters and sculptors, and a tremendous outdoor sculpture garden along Clairemont which will eventually see over a dozen massive pieces of 3D art rotating throughout the year. By creating a space where artists and makers can create and collaborate, Artisan Forge is doing its part to foster the grand vision they have for Uptown.
“A big part of my desire and passion is that this whole project is a complete tie-in with the energy of the local art community,” Johnson said. “What we need to do is fill this building and energize it. Once that’s done, then you can play with the machine. Then you can create events and opportunities and other things. We’re really on our way; we’ve had some amazing conversations.”
One such event that hopes to catalyze this artistic spirit is coming up soon: The Uptown Art Jam at Artisan Forge on Oct. 21. The all day all ages event focuses on street art, which is frankly something of a rarity in the Valley. Artisan Forge is bringing nationally renowned street artists to do live murals on the exterior of their massive garage doors throughout the course of the day. Few & Far is an all female collective of street artists from around the country who travel the globe making cool stuff and teaching the international, ever-evolving visual language of street art. They’ll be joined by street artists RasTerms a.k.a. JamesMonk and Wisconsin’s own Moons all to create murals that will stay in Eau Claire forever. Facility Director Jackie Boos said she hopes this and other events like it help people in Eau Claire understand the ethos of street art and think maybe this can happen here.
“The live art concept is cool, where people can feel like they’re a part of something that’s being created and it will end up here in the community rather than a make-and-ship-out type scenario,” Boos said. “To see the event unfold is huge.”
While street art is common and accepted in cities across the globe, that wave of interest hasn’t quite reached Eau Claire for any number of reasons. But Johnson, as the chair of the newly formed Public Arts Commission, is actively creating avenues for more art like this to happen in Eau Claire. In addition to soaking the walls of Artisan Forge with street art – inside and out – he’s in the midst of creating an application process where if a street artist has a well-thought-out idea and a location in the mind, the Public Arts Commission can give a nod to the City of Eau Claire to make these kinds of projects happen.
“It’s a misunderstood art,” Johnson said. “We need to be teaching people about that respect. You don’t paint over somebody else’s work if you’re not better than they are. It’s a misunderstood culture and we want to bring some enlightenment to that.”
At the Uptown Art Jam, the name of the game is art and community. In addition to all the street art, there will be live music from Eaux Claires artists Velvet Negroni and Sloslylove, as well as Chicago-based rapper Vagabond Maurice and local singer/songwriter Lizzy Diane. Tons of the makers of Artisan Forge will be there that day touring their workspaces. And it’s free for everyone to attend.
So if you’ve ever been curious as to what’s going on with Artisan Forge, you’ll get a good scope of the present and future at the Uptown Art Jam. “Being here from the start and seeing the idea shape into where we are now and where we’re going, this is the start of something much larger than what this building is,” Boos said.
Johnson beamed and added: “If we fill this building with creatives, and you put them in a creative environment, it’s unlimited what we can do.”
Uptown Art Jam • 9am-8pm • Oct. 21 • Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Road, Eau Claire