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Friday, May. 19th, 2017
The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is just about four weeks away, and they just announced their mind-bending slate of visual arts, performance pieces, sound installations, artistic collaborations, and literature events that will happen at Troix on June 16 and 17. Getting a glimpse like this at some of the experiential works the curators have planned is making the festival more real than ever.
This year, we’re seeing festival mainstays like The Banks evolve into different landscapes, new works from artists featured at Eaux Claires past like VNESSWOLFCHILD, Chuck-U, and Chippewa Valley native Davy Sumner’s sound installation work. We’ll get to see tons of wild new ideas play out, including some seriously large-scale sculptures, live painting, murals, dance performances, new stages with new designs, and a "Mom Booth,” where a bunch of real moms (even some of the artist’s moms) will hang out and talk to fest-goers and give hugs and motherly life advice. And lest we forget “The Big EAUX” installation by Eau Claire’s Antic Studios greeting you on the way into the grounds. Plus, we’ll get to see the work of Eau Claire artists Holli Jacobsen, who’s creating a “Moss Cave” in the woods, and Kevin Michael Scheid, who will make tons of balloon art and release them during musical performances.
If you head over to the www.eauxclaires.com, you can see the full digital presentation of the lineup (and also learn more and buy tickets). Here’s the arts lineup in full:
Artist: Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels (New York, NY)
Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels is an Australian-American sculptor who makes large-scale installations inspired by fantastical blueprint drawings.
Artist: The Pickup Music Project (Boston, MA)
"Fluid Process" is an interactive sound sculpture that makes music with falling water.
Artist: Intermedio | Eric Blyth, Sam Ferris-Morris, Justin West (Cincinnati, OH)
“Tremolos" is a multichannel speaker installation that explores the physical expression of amplitude modulation.
“no [space] for time"
Artist: Concrete Pig (Minneapolis, MN)
This installation eludes any sense of reality we are accustomed to. Another world altogether, scratches in film, media consumed, past forgotten. All in an illusion where rocks float to the surface.
Artist: Erlend Neumann (Hudson, NY)
This sculpture exemplifies Neumann’s sculptural approach of minimal yet complex forms which can have multiple arrangements which work with the physical and the negative space.
Artist: Erlend Neumann (Hudson, NY)
Expanding on the work displayed in Neumann's “SOURCE" installation(s), The design for the “Sparreaux" stage is a take-off from the classic tweeter design found in loud-speakers. The intention is to create a structure which is beautiful and can assist in the projection of sound naturally through its form.
Artists: Michael Brown and Clearwing Productions (Eau Claire / Milwaukee, WI)
The next evolution of the "The Banks" continues the creative initiative set out from the first two editions of Eaux Claires. The mission of this performance space is to alter how audience and artist interact with an emphasis on incorporating experimenal video and audio elements to produce a unique viewing environment. For Troix, "The Banks" will be an experimental venue-in-the-round that is set amongst the woods and encourages audiences to move around the performance area and experience impromptu sets from multiple vantage points.
Artists: Michael Brown and Carl Faber (Eau Claire, WI / Portland, OR)
Lighting designers Carl Faber and Michael Brown have been collaborating together since their introduction at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2005. Expanding on their work from previous editions of Eaux Claires, "The Ampools" is a site-specific lighting installation that encompasses the entire festival grounds. This year includes more area to discover in the woods as you explore Eaux Claires at night.
“The Big EAUX"
Artist: Antic Studios (Eau Claire, WI)
Returning for its third incarnation at Eaux Claires, "The Big EAUX" is a 3D-mapped art installation by Antic Studios - a local production company widely known for intricate stage designs and stunning visual content. Standing at close to 8' tall and 40' wide, the installation is a perfect reminder of our place and time over the weekend.
Artist: Andy DuCett (Minneapolis, MN)
Ask about life’s big questions, get a hug or some help with your homework, and grab some sunscreen from Mom. Staffed by real moms from the local community, including mothers of artists at the festival, the "Mom Booth" is an opportunity to engage with the familiar notions of motherhood and see how they change from person to person.
“The Woods: A Way of Seeing Things"
Artists: Krista Stout, Sol McCormick, and Joseph Stout (Minneapolis, MN)
Making its second appearance at Eaux Claires, "The Woods" is an invitation to see things. It's an invitation to look past the meadow's mown grass to where things are a little shadier, a little more secret, a little wilder.
Artist: Chris Kallmyer (Los Angeles, CA)
One thousand live crickets are amplified throughout the Eaux Claires woods. Installed in their natural environment, the crickets create a sound that points to memory, the passage of time, and the poetics of place.
“The Living Room"
Artists: Andy DuCett and Chris Kallmyer (Minneapolis, MN / Los Angeles, CA)
An Upper Midwestern living room planted in the Eaux Claires woods. Come take a nap, watch the trees from the couch, or listen to some sounds on our vintage stereo console. If you're lucky, those sounds may just be impromptu listening sessions of unreleased music from our artists and friends.
“NEON FOREST GALAXY”
Artist: Kristina Rolander (Milwaukee, WI)
For Eaux Claires III, Kristina will create an immersive stage design uniting art, audience, and performer in a heightened sensorial experience. With diorama-inspired structures, hanging elements, and handpainted backdrops, the musicians will perform inside a custom-made environment. By utilizing specific paints, the colors will transform under different lights, from day into night. The stage design itself will never change, however one’s perception of it will. The final piece will be a truly site-specific work, infused with the spirit of the surrounding forest, prairie, and land.
Artist: Davy Sumner (Los Angeles, CA)
Eddy Currents is a mechatronic percussion instrument, named for a shared phenomenon between loops of electrical current and analogous circular motions in rivers. Steel spheres are propelled by electromagnetic forces to create abrupt attacks and granular decays as elements in a spatialized, chaotic composition. Residual energies from the coiled magnets are funneled to create underwater eddies that visually echo and sustain the electrical pulses of the music
Artist: VNESSWOLFCHILD (Detroit, MI)
A roaming and evolving performance art project taking form in different shapes and configurations throughout the festival. The less you know, the better your interpretation.
Artist: John Mark Creative (Minneapolis, MN)
John Mark is a Choreographer and Creative Director whose clients include Lizzo, Har Mar Superstar, Weird Al Yancovik, Tickle Torture, the Afghan Whigs, Little Scream, the New Pornographers, and many more. “DECORUM," an original dance series for Eaux Claires, is inspired by PSA's from the 1960's and other questionable guides to life.
Artist: Kevin Michael Scheid (Eau Claire, WI)
Kevin Michael Scheid inflates balloons of different shapes and sizes during concerts, as a form of performance art. He sets them free over large crowds in hopes of encouraging participation, while creating wonderment and spreading joy. All are invited to interact with, play, and have fun with the balloons throughout the duration of Eaux Claires III.
Artist: Kelie Bowman (Brooklyn, NY / Sunset, SC)
Kelie Bowman's current body of work explores the ephemeral qualities of light by shifting depth and distance in a still medium. "Crescent Field" portrays multiple landscapes at once as if looking through a kaleidoscopic horizon. These large-scale murals encourage a considered connection to our environment and speak of shifting landscapes, rising waters, and exploring the vastness of space and nature.
“The Driftless Area: Trapezoidal Study"
Artists: Burlesque Public Works Division (Minneapolis, MN)
This installation will be a base layer consisting of three walls, separate yet together, which will become a composition built up of layers of painted and physical typography and signage.
“We Were Seeds"
Artist: Landon Sheely (La Crosse, WI)
Classically untrained and foolishly optimistic, Landon Sheely hopes to hearten the viewer, often using childlike form and idealism, typically through print, but also making common use of any medium that doesn’t require patience or precision.
“Live Painting by Justin Orvis Steimer"
Artist: Justin Orvis Steimer (New York, NY)
Justin Orvis Steimer will live-paint during the festival in reaction to the music being created around him.
“Where Peggy-O Meets Mandolin Rain"
Artist: Casey O’Connell (San Francisco, CA)
This mural was orignally created during Eaux Claires 2016, with its completion following the close of the festival. Troix marks the first time this work has been made accessible for public viewing.
“CHUCK-U Coloring Wall"
Artist: Chuck-U (Minneapolis, MN)
Chuck-U is a prolific illustrator and artist making his second appearance at Eaux Claires. He draws strange creatures in strange environments in a style that can be described as “very linesey” as in, he uses lots of lines. At this year's festival Chuck will be creating a site-specific work that encourages audience and participants to help fill in the lines and color the wall as the piece evolves.
“The Poetry of Eleanor Perry Smith"
Artist: Eleanor Perry Smith (Denver, CO / Milwaukee, WI)
Eleanor Perry-Smith is a performance poet and writer. Her work blends classic verse with contemporary grit.
"Eaux Claires Literary Program"
Narrator: Michael Perry (Eau Claire, WI)
Writers: Dean Bakopoulos & Alissa Nutting, Mary Cutrufello, Guante, Daniel José Older, Patti See
This year fest features lots of writers, and again they will meet fest-goers in a quiet place. And in the spirit of collaboration and crossover, the writers will all appear and pop up in other contexts throughout the grounds.
Artist: Holli Jacobson (Eau Claire, WI), with Lang Jacobson, Elizabeth Harclerode and Dagmar Beckel-Machyckova
"Moss Cave" is a sheltered bed of moss that encourages visitors to stop, rest, listen, and return to the festival with renewed energy.
Tuesday, May. 16th, 2017
The saga of a quirky piece of Eau Claire’s architectural history took a positive turn recently when a local business offered space for the storage and repair of the iconic roof topper from Woo’s Pagoda Restaurant.
Chippewa Valley Door Co. in Chippewa Falls responded to a public plea from the Chippewa Valley Museum for indoor storage space for the 18-foot pagoda structure, which has been kept outside since 2014 when it was salvaged before the well-known Chinese restaurant was demolished. Another business, Live in Eau Claire, has offered to restore the pagoda, but it needs adequate indoor space in which to do so.
Chippewa Valley Door Co. is offering the use of a building with 14-foot doors and 20-foot ceilings, providing plenty of vertical space for the pagoda, said owner Rob Bearrood. The company, which installs and services garage doors, recently purchased the building that houses the Chippewa Herald, 321 Frenette Drive, Chippewa Falls.
Bearrood said he decided to offer the space after hearing media reports that the Chippewa Valley Museum would cease pursuing restoration efforts unless indoor storage was found. Chippewa Valley Museum Director Carrie Ronnander – who set that ultimatum in April – said she was excited by the offer. “It still has to go all the way through,” she noted, “but we’re much further along than we were before.”
Eau Claire construction firm Market & Johnson has offered to move the pagoda, but a date hasn’t been set.
Since it was salvaged in May 2014, the pagoda has been stored outdoors next to Banbury Place on Galloway Street. However, it has deteriorated because of exposure to the elements. Live in Eau Claire had previously offered to repair and display the structure at the Local Lounge, its restaurant on North Clairemont Avenue. A recent fundraising dinner at the Local Lounge netted $3,000 for the restoration project, which will cost an estimated $15,000, Ronnander said.
Friday, May. 12th, 2017
Monday, May. 8th, 2017
For all of the music and art that actually happens at the two-day Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival (June 16-17 this year), the last two years have seen plenty of activity before the fest, with local musicians and show organizers throwing all kinds of events all over the city on the Thursday before, hoping to attract festival goers who showed up early. Not to mention the festival itself has thrown shindigs of their own with Phil Cook both years – at the Whispering Pines campground in 2015 and The Lismore in 2016).
However. This year a collaborative effort between Downtown Eau Claire Inc. and Blugold Radio 99.9FM will shine a collective light on all of the pre-fest events happening on June 15, when you can catch local music at different venues across downtown Eau Claire. They call it "Prex Claires." You'll find some of your local scene faves, and maybe a couple surprises as well.
Several shows are already booked on the Thursday before, including OXBEAUX, the official pre-Eaux Claires concert at The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely featuring The Shouting Matches, Field Report, Dem Yuut, and Idle Empress. And of course, we'll have a special night of Volume One's own Sounds Like Summer Concert Series in Phoenix Park that night, too. But there will be tons of other shows going on around town, and Prex Claires hopes to pull them all together under one big umbrella in an effort to get as many people enjoying themselves downtown as possible.
In the Eaux Claires organizers' recent Reddit AMA, Creative Director Michael Brown talked about this, saying one of the festival's goals is for the Eau Claire community to take charge and start booking shows, events, and other cool stuff before and around the festival: “Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town.”
“Our goal is to introduce visitors to our vibrant Downtown community and amazing local music," said Kyran Hamill, of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. “Prex Claires is a great opportunity to get to know our community before spending the weekend at Foster Farms.”
The full slate of music events and lineups happening in downtown will be released soon, but participating venues will include The Oxbow, The Plus, The Mousetrap, The Brewing Projekt, Acoustic Café, Dive, and The Fire House.
It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the cultural renaissance in Eau Claire over the past decade that the arts aren’t the icing on the economic cake: In fact, around here they’re more akin to economic meat and potatoes. And it’s this growing realization that Creative Economic Week (May 13-20) is meant to celebrate and amplify.
Locally, the week will be marked with panel discussions, the launch of a new professional organization for designers, a walking tour of downtown art galleries, and much more, including musical and theatrical performances.
Eau Claire is one of a number of Wisconsin communities taking part in the second annual Creative Economy Week. Locally, the week will be marked with panel discussions, the launch of a new professional organization for designers, a walking tour of downtown art galleries, and much more, including musical and theatrical performances.
“During Creative Economy Week we’ll shine a spotlight on the strong and growing arts and culture economy in Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley,” said Mike Schatz, executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc. and the city’s economic development director. “We want to recognize the efforts and importance of the creative class workers that add to the quality of life we enjoy in Eau Claire.”
The week is the brainchild of Arts Wisconsin, a statewide arts advocacy group based in Madison, and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which represents cities and villages across the state. The week was established to highlight the major impact the arts have on our lives – and our pocketbooks.
So what exactly is the “creative economy”? Arts Wisconsin defines it as “the intersection of the creative workforce, creative industries, and creative communities.” And the creative economy a bigger swathe of the entire economy than you might think. The arts encompasses everything nonprofit museums and symphonies to for-profit photography, architecture, and graphic design businesses. According to a study recently released by the National Endowment for the Arts, more than 91,000 people work in the arts and cultural industries in Wisconsin, earning $5.2 billion annually. Nationwide, the arts and culture sector contributed more than $730 billion to the American economy. That’s a whole lot of creativity!
Here’s a rundown of the Creative Economy Week events in Eau Claire. Full details here.
Saturday, May 13
3-5pm: State of our Creative Economy (kickoff event), The Lakely, 516 Galloway St.
6pm-midnight: The Brewing Projekt’s Two Year Anniversary, The Brewing Projekt, 2000 N. Oxford Ave.
7-9pm: Boats & Bridges CD Release Show, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.
Monday, May 15
6-8pm: State of Our Visual Art & Design (conversation and networking), Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Road.
7-8:30pm: State of Our Literature (conversation and music), The Gallery at The Oxbow, 516 Galloway St.
7-10pm: Monday Jazz Sessions hosted by Michael Shults & Jeremy Boettcher, The Lakely, 516 Galloway St.
Tuesday, May 16
6-8pm: State of Our Theatre (conversation), The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St.
7-8:30pm: Writing for Exposure: Why Writers Need to Get Paid for Communities to Flourish (And How to Do That) (panel discussion), Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.
Wednesday, May 17
8:30-9:30am: How to Become a Full-Time Maker (panel), Red's Mercantile, 224 N. Dewey St.
6-7pm: “Sounds Like Home” Public Input Session, Chippewa Valley Museum, Carson Park.
7-9pm: Dairyland Designers Association Kickoff Event, The Gallery at The Oxbow, 516 Galloway St.
Thursday, May 18
4-8pm: Downtown Eau Claire Gallery Walk, North and South Barstow street districts.
7-9pm: Songwriters in the Round, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.
8:30-10:30pm: Clear Water Comedy Presents Emma Arnold, The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St.
Friday, May 19
6-8pm: Book Release & Reading: Transnational/Turn, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.
7-9pm: Twig Issue III Release Party, Forage 930 Galloway St.
7:30-9:30pm: BareBones Ensemble Theatre: Two Plays by Harold Pinter, The Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave.
Saturday, May 20
7-8:30pm: Steve Szydel Performance: Re-release of Fairchild, Volume One Galley, 205 N. Dewey St.
Across the three-county area, state and local taxes generated by visitors were estimated to be $45.1 million last year. Spending by tourists also supported the equivalent of about 4,300 jobs in Eau Claire County and generated $103 million in wages.
From massive music festivals to quiet weekend getaways, tourism is a huge component of the Chippewa Valley’s economy. That’s the story told by new figures released by the state Department of Tourism about spending by visitors last year in Wisconsin. According to the new report, direct spending by tourists in Eau Claire, Chippewa, and Dunn counties hit $363 million last year, a 4.6 percent increase from 2015. In Eau Claire County alone, travelers’ direct spending was $228 million, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year (and a 16.5 percent increase from just three years earlier). Across the three-county area, state and local taxes generated by visitors were estimated to be $45.1 million last year. Spending by tourists also supported the equivalent of about 4,300 jobs in Eau Claire County and generated $103 million in wages.
“Tourism’s role in our community continues to grow, and from an economic standpoint, the numbers reflect that,” said Linda John, executive director at Visit Eau Claire. “Last year’s numbers show that we are doing the right things to make our community a destination worth traveling to and one where every traveler feels safe.”
Statewide, direct tourist spending was $12.3 billion last year, while total visitor spending was a whopping $20 million. All those tourists generated $1.5 billion in state and local taxes, which saved the average Wisconsin household $650 each. Just by itself, that sum could buy a nice little tourist trip.
Tuesday, May. 2nd, 2017
THE ECONOMY OF ART: A new state-by-state study examines the number of Americans who work in arts- and culture-related professions and how much they are paid. Overall, this sector contributed $729.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014. Here’s how Wisconsin stacks up.
People working in arts and cultural industries in Wisconsin. This includes fields like publishing, broadcasting, advertising, etc., as well as related jobs such as government and retail.
Total compensation for those employed in arts and culture in Wisconsin. The state ranks 20th in all states for such compensation and 24th in compensation growth.
Average compensation (wages or salary) in Wisconsin arts and cultural jobs, compared with $54,261 for salaried jobs in the state.
Percentage by which Wisconsin’s art and cultural employment falls below the national average.
Percentage by which Wisconsin’s art and cultural compensation falls below the national average.
Monday, May. 1st, 2017
Last weekend, the creative team behind the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival – Justin Vernon, Michael Brown, Aaron Dessner, and Michael Perry – took to Reddit for an AMA (or “ask me anything” – a freewheelin’ Q&A message board with Reddit users) to discuss the upcoming festival’s third year on June 16 and 17 here in Eau Claire. The questions ranged from pointed, to thoughtful, to batsh*t crazy, to completely off-topic, to grateful, to excited fans looking for cool stuff to do Eau Claire. We sifted through the discussion, and here’s a few choice quotes:
Michael Brown, on utilizing the festival grounds in different ways
"Discovering the woods last year was a revelation. It just shows that we're constantly learning what can be accomplished in this place. l have explored these grounds endlessly and there really are some magical places that are definitely in future plans (the river?!?), but your safety, proper site planning, and the experience for every person in our audience is a massive focus for us (see Fyre Festival for examples of what not to do), so we take these decisions very seriously and attempt to only embark on an idea if we know that it can implemented correctly.”
Justin Vernon, on how he does Bon Iver while also managing a whole festival
"I'm just a musician who says things and then a bunch of talented people ignore half of it and do the other half and BAM presto! :)))))”
"Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town. – Eaux Claires Artistic Director Michael Brown
Michael Brown, on the days leading up to the festival
"Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town. But for sure there's going to a Pre-Show "oxbeaux" concert at the oxbow hotel. And I know there's another after show on thursday night planned at Pizza Plus (get those tickets now, because I think its going to be an insane show).”
Justin Vernon, on the possibility of developing more side projects
"sometimes, you don't want to go through the whole label and PR rigamarole... so ill just wait till we figure out what to do with all that music this year”
"I love the music in Eau Claire these days. We have so many studios, a COUPLE good places to play, and most of all Heart. But I hope people open up and allow themselves to fail and get better.” – Justin Vernon
Justin Vernon, on the Eau Claire music scene of today
"I love Eau Claire. Always have, always will. Ive lived there for 35 years. I spend time other places but I always come home. I could list 1000's of things about it which are perfect and resonate with me so deeply. The ONLY thing about itself, is that it can be unaware of certain things. I was in the music scene here for 10 years before I left for a year. In coming back, I noticed that there was so many things I would've loved to learn that I couldn't in Eau Claire. Musicallly, Otherwise. I love the music in Eau Claire these days. We have so many studios, a COUPLE good places to play, and most of all Heart. But I hope people open up and allow themselves to fail and get better.”
Justin Vernon, on whether or not Kendrick Lamar will do a surprise set
"I won't lie, we can't get Kendrick! But he is certainly OUR guy right now. as in, the Earth's guy. I can promise many other surprises tho. More than any other year.”
Michael Perry, on how his voice is so “naturally golden”
"Mostly what you're hearing is too much coffee, too little sleep, and some tricks I learned from an old-school radio pal of mine named Al. I also used to do a lot of open-mic poetry readings and grew up listening to a lot of preachers, farmers, and loggers. Somewhere in there you get what you hear. 'Course we all know that the rumbliest voice of all belongs to JV…"
"We are concentrating very hard on being different ; not for being different sakes, but trying to find out what only WE can do." – Justin Vernon
Justin Vernon, on Eaux Claires being labeled an “anti-festival”
"I hope we never used the word "anti-festival'... a) I don't think we have done enough to separate ourselves enough from festival life to be able to say that... b) being ANTI-something can mean you're putting energy where It doesn't need to be. c) we are concentrating very hard on being different ; not for being different sakes, but trying to find out what only WE can do. Each Day, Each Plight an opportunity to find more out about your worth and uniqueness. Basically, we plan on getting more and more separated from the Noise every year while approaching our own unique identity more and more.”
Michael Perry, on how Bon Iver influences his work and vice versa
"JD gave me an early mix of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and I listened to it over and over many nights in a row after midnight while writing a book called "Visiting Tom." Wound up structuring an entire chapter around the album and the image of fireflies, even though I never named JD or BI. I also made a "Bon Hiver" joke in one of my other books. So, yep. I'm grateful we crossed paths a long time ago."
Justin Vernon, on whether or not it’s OK to smoke weed at Eaux Claires
"Weed is ok. Its a plant. Most of us know that now. Just wait till we ban Beer! just kidding. :)”
Michael Brown, on why Eaux Claires has been scheduled on a different month each year
"With specific curation, unique creative projects, multiple factors, such close ties the university schedule (the festival's backbone are university students), and so many artists involved, we have to be more flexible than your typical music festival, hence the moving dates for I, II, and III. I'd love for you guys to make a thread about this on the Eaux Claires sub-reddit and see if there's consensus amongst you all, because we're right there with you in the desire to settle in to one weekend!”
Michael Perry, on cultivating Eau Claire’s sense of place for newcomers
"Mostly I try to shut my mouth and just listen. Whether it's at an actual meeting, or walking alone by the river, or standing in the middle of several thousand people. Then at some point I shut myself away and free-write. Then try things out loud. And then, ultimately, just hope against hope that the words work. I think the greatest lesson I've learned thanks to this festival is: Trust the audience. Take a chance, and most often they will take it with you. I'm grateful to be a part of this thing."
Michael Brown’s take on the Fyre Festival hijinx that recently made headlines
"Come to Eaux Claires."
That's it. You can always read the whole thing yourself right here.
Wednesday, Apr. 19th, 2017
The skyline of downtown Eau Claire isn’t the only thing changing thanks to the ongoing construction of the Confluence Arts Center. On Wednesday, the Confluence Council, the entity that will operate the performing arts center when it opens in the fall of 2018, announced that it plans to merge with the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, which currently operates the State Theatre, the arts venue that the Confluence Center will replace.
The boards of directors of both organizations have signed a letter of intent to conduct the merger, which will be completed by the time the arts center opens. Representatives of both groups said merger discussions have been ongoing for several years and began not long after the Confluence Council was formed in 2014. (The Confluence Project, a shared university-community arts center project with an associated privately built mixed-use building, was first announced in 2012.)
“We have 30 years of experience and institutional knowledge to bring to the Confluence,” says Pam Rasmussen, president of the ECRAC board of directors. “Our relationships with donors and ticket buyers will go a long way to ensure that the Confluence Arts Center can be successful from day one.”
ECRAC was formed in 1983, and the following year was given the now 91-year-old State Theatre. While it has operated the theater since that time, ECRAC has also been intimately involved in the Confluence Project, and ECRAC’s executive director, Ben Richgruber, serves on the Confluence Council board of directors. That board is also composed of representatives of the city, Visit Eau Claire, UW-Eau Claire, arts groups, and the project’s developer, as well as several at-large members.
While the merger won’t be finalized until next year, the two entities are already working together. Since January, ECRAC has given 10 percent of its membership dues to the Confluence Council. In addition, some of the proceeds from ECRAC’s annual Jubilee fundraiser will go to the Confluence Council.
“ECRAC has been doing this work for a long time, and it only makes sense to bring both organizations together as we move forward and work to grow the arts community,” said Vicki Hoehn, president of the Confluence Council board of directors.
In the meantime, the Confluence Council is looking for an executive director to run the new arts center. Hoehn said a decision on hiring that person will likely occur by June.
After the merger, ECRAC will essentially cease to exist. In addition to operating the new arts center, the Confluence Council is expected to take over ECRAC’s role in programs such as the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild, the Chippewa Valley Book Festival, the ArtMobile, and more.
One thing the Confluence Council won’t take over, however, is the State Theatre itself. The Confluence Council doesn’t want to own the Vaudeville-era theater, and ECRAC hopes to sell the facility by the time the new arts center opens.
“We’ve had a couple of people express some interest in it,” Rasmussen said. “Our goal is to find some complementary use of the State Theatre with the Confluence that continues to enhance the arts.”