Big Arts Merger: By 2018 the Confluence Council Will Absorb ECRAC

Tom Giffey

The Strate Theater – home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.
The State Theatre – home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

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.”

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