Wednesday, Mar. 6th, 2019

Let’s Talk Winter: Wintermission Initiative Wants Your Input

A new initiative to improve the quality of life in Eau Claire during the winter will begin Thursday, March 7 with pop-up engagement sessions at the L.E. Phillips Senior Centre, the Altoona Public Library, and Winter After Hours in Pinehurst Park.  All citizens are welcome to attend the first of several such listening sessions, where they can discuss the things that make winter great – and ways to make it better. In January, 8 80 Cities, a non-profit organization based in Toronto, Canada, announced that Eau Claire would be a vanguard city in the Wintermission initiative, which aims to combat social isolation and increase physical activity in winter for people of all ages and backgrounds.  Along with Buffalo, New York and Leadville, Colorado, Eau Claire will take the lead on addressing barriers to social engagement, mobility, and recreational opportunities over the winter months. The official kick-off event for Wintermission will take place Friday, March 8 from 6-8pm at the Visit Eau Claire Experience Center at the Pablo Center, and engagement sessions will continue the following day at Shift Cyclery and Coffee Bar, La Luna Grocery Store, and the Pablo Center.  These sessions will be used to inform the creation of a series of pilot projects that will improve the livelihoods of Eau Claire residents during the darker months. Locals are also encouraged to fill out a survey about their experience with Wisconsin winters, including their activity and obstacles, online. The survey, and more information about the pop-up engagement sessions and Wintermission, is available here.

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Thursday, Feb. 21st, 2019

Chippewa Valley Artist Invited to Prestigious Italian Art Festival

Chippewa Valley artist Eric Lee.
Chippewa Valley artist Eric Lee. (Photo: Andrea Paulseth)

The Eau Claire art community is banding together to raise $15,000 to support local artist Eric Lee, who recently received an invitation to display his work at a prestigious international gallery exhibit that runs in partnership with the Venice Biennale in Italy later this year. Hosted by the European Cultural Center, an organization that promotes the arts through exhibitions and education, the “Personal Structures,” art exhibition complements the world-renowned Biennale by inviting artists from many cultures, styles, ages, and stages in their career to show their creations. During the last show in 2017, about 200 artists from 40 countries were chosen to participate. This year, Lee would likely be the only Midwest artist on a roster that is often flooded with New York City names.

Lee is the first to admit that his paintings, prior to 2016, sucked the life out of a room. They were dark and colorless explorations of his past, attempts to make sense of the struggles of his 20s.

“There’s a lot of anxiety, a lot of depression, a lot of problems,” he said of his work. “It comes to the point where you’ve got to ask, am I expressing this, or am I just feeding it?”

In 2015, feelings of anxiety and depression were weighing on Lee. “I was really struggling at this point and could not see anything positive anywhere, though my beautiful family was right in front of me,” he said. He knew he had to take a more positive approach to art, and to life. With this in mind, Lee began work on the last painting he would make for two years.

Eric Lee’s triptych was influenced by his need to reinvent his approach to art, by literature he was reading at the time, and by his grandfather, a WWII veteran of Polish descent.  From left to right, the pieces are titled: In Broad Daylight, Foundations Near Hughitt Slip, and Łódź.  This work earned Lee an invitation to participate in the Venice art exhibition. (Click for a closer look.)
Eric Lee’s triptych was influenced by his need to reinvent his approach to art (by literature he was reading at the time) and by his grandfather, a WWII veteran of Polish descent. From left to right, the pieces are titled: In Broad Daylight, Foundations Near Hughitt Slip, and Łódź. This work earned Lee an invitation to participate in the Venice art exhibition. (Click for a closer look.)

It’s a triptych – three canvases intended to be displayed as one cohesive work – featuring a collage of tattered canvass, broken matches and match heads, and various other scraps arranged on top of swirls of oil paint, ink and tiny images of graffiti-touched buildings. With splashes of rust, aqua, and pea-green, it’s a rainbow compared to his older works.

Upon completion of the paintings in 2016, the younger of Lee’s two sons, Vinnie, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Lee stopped painting altogether while his family endured the child’s illness. Six-year-old Vinnie died the day after Easter last year. Lee’s long-brewing paradigm shift snapped into place.

“Needless to say, it changes absolutely everything,” Lee said. “Everything stopped.” Vinnie’s death put things into a perspective Lee could never have imagined. “It may seem weird, but I am a way more positive person than I was before.”

Painting wasn’t as important to Lee from there on out. He used to labor over each piece, perceiving them as direct indicators of his success and status, never finding satisfaction in the finished product. When he began painting again late last year, he took a more playful approach, and a more hopeful one.

Just after he put brush to surface again, the European Cultural Center reached out. One of the event organizers had seen his triptych from two years ago on Instagram, and wanted him to show his work in Venice.

“I thought this was a hoax,” Lee said. “It was an email from someone named ‘Svetlana’ in Russia.” Out of caution, he researched the organizations mentioned in the email, and asked the woman who reached out – Svetlana Eroshina, one of the exhibition organizers – questions about the piece and how she found it to verify that the opportunity was authentic. And it was.

But it comes with a price tag. Participating artists are responsible for transporting their work to the event, which takes place May-November this year. Between the cost of shipping and navigating Venice’s strict laws regarding art, getting just the painting – not Lee himself – to Venice will cost $12,000.

“There was really no question of what to do, because we believe in supporting each other as artists,” fellow artist Jo Ellen Burke, owner of 200 Main Gallery & Wine Bar, said. She set up an online fundraiser Wednesday to help pay Lee’s shipping – and potentially travel – expenses.

“Italy is a mecca for art in the entire world,” Burke said. “We’d really like to see someone like Eric who is really humble, and so focused on his work and family, to give him a chance to attend something like this as well.” She would like to see the community lend enough support to allow Lee’s entire family to go.

“It’s like Justin Vernon making it,” Terry Meyer, another Eau Claire artist, said. “We’re actually going to have a visual artist who is world renowned.”

“If they had picked one of (my older paintings), I would probably have not gone through with it,” Lee said. “I don’t want to put that kind of thing out into the world anymore.”

A few of Lee’s older, gray paintings are currently hung in the Graham Avenue Walking Gallery at the Pablo Center at the Confluence. The pieces, “Verehrung” and “Springtime on Winter Street,” are sobering bookends to a display of works by elementary students: explorations of symphonic music in technicolor.

When Lee received his old pieces back from an art show in New York in late 2018, he wasn’t sure what to do with them. A friend advised him to sell the works, and direct the proceeds to a local charity. Lee chose the Beacon House in Eau Claire, which helps people with housing insecurity transition into permanent living arrangements. Doing something good with his older art is Lee’s way to say goodbye to his old worldview.

Though Lee has painted for more than 10 years, it has always been a private practice. If he is able to send his work to Venice, he hopes the increased exposure will allow him to do more to help others.

“I am completely blown away by the generosity, by the interest people are taking,” Lee said. He was featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Spectrum West Thursday morning, and several people and organizations, including UW-Eau Claire and the European Cultural Center itself, have reached out to him with financial support.

“I still don’t understand for the life of me why they’d find me in the first place or choose me, because there are many thousands of artists out there who would love to be a part of this,” Lee said. “I’d be happy to frame the invitation.”

The online fundraiser for Lee can be reached here:

More information about the Venice Biennale is available online at The exhibition Lee has been invited to show in, “Personal Structures,” has an online presence at  Lee will need to raise the funds to ship his work by mid-March.

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Wednesday, Feb. 20th, 2019

New Children’s Museum Will Share Space With Family Resource Center and 4K School

Block 7 concept with Children's Museum and office space. Click for a biggie.
Block 7 concept drawing from Pablo Properties with Children's Museum. Click for a biggie.

Three Chippewa Valley institutions that focus on children and families have announced two unique partnerships that will be made possible when the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire moves into a new home in the near future.

The museum announced on Tuesday, Feb. 19, that its new building – which is planned for the Block 7 redevelopment site on North Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire – will house a pre-kindergarten school in partnership with the Eau Claire Area School District as well as a new home for the Family Resource Center for Eau Claire County.

The three entities say the new partnerships will save money for the nonprofit agencies involved while also helping families by offering a range of services and opportunities under one roof.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about this opportunity.” – Children’s Museum Executive Director Michael McHorney

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about this opportunity,” Children’s Museum Executive Director Michael McHorney said of working with the school district. He said the museum planned to align its new facility with the early-learning model used by the district.

The two-section pre-K school will be part of the school district’s Eau Claire 4 Tomorrow program, which offers free, half-day 4-year-old kindergarten classes for children at 21 locations throughout the community, most of them private child care centers.

Eau Claire School District Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said the partnership with the Children’s Museum will give families another choice for their kids’ early education. “I think this is going to provide a very deep and rich experience for many students for many years to come,” she said.

The new partnership began, Hardebeck said, with a conversation over a cup of coffee. “When we started talking about the possibility of a preschool program housed at the museum, it just hit so many of the buttons, the things that we are trying to do in the school district in terms of providing opportunities for intentional play with students so that we can do that great work to develop their young brains and get them ready for school,” Hardebeck said.

This isn’t the first collaboration between the Children’s Museum and the school district. Since the museum opened in 2004, it has worked with the school district to provide all district kindergartners with a field trip experience. In 2016, the museum began offering summer school classes for pre-K through fifth-grade students.

At a press conference, McHorney signed a letter of intent with Hardebeck to create the preschool partnership as well as a letter forming the partnership with the Family Resource Center. The latter agreement was also signed by Dr. Jennifer Eddy, interim executive director of the FRC.

Under the terms of the partnership, the Family Resource Center, which is currently located at Oakwood Mall, would co-locate with the new Children’s Museum. Eddy said this will benefit the Family Resource Center by giving them shared access to office space and other resources. However, they would also have their own dedicated space and be able to maintain their own identity as an agency, she said. The Family Resource Center, which was founded in 1999, provides education, prevention, support, and networking for families, particularly those with children from birth through age 5. Among other programs, the FRC offers Parent Café gatherings, one-to-one parent mentoring, and playgroups for young children.

“We just think this is a great partnership, and we’re very excited to be part of it,” Eddy said. “We also think being more public like this we’ll be able to recruit more families. The beauty of the Family Resource Center model is that it doesn’t target families that are struggling. It’s prevention and support for all families.”

McHorney said that in its new home the museum intends to create a “Center for the Young Child” – an area for toddlers that could be used by the FRC for playgroups and programs. In addition, the museum hopes to build a sensory room that is designed for special-needs children.

McHorney said the new museum will have about 21,000 square feet indoors plus outdoor space on a “green” roof. The current museum, 220 S. Barstow St., had about 15,000 square feet on three levels.

Late last year, the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which owns Block 7, entered into an agreement with Pablo Properties for Pablo to develop the site. Pablo’s plans include a two-story children’s museum, a 125,000-square-foot office building that would include first-floor retail space for the likes of a bank branch or a small grocery store, and a public plaza including a water feature, green space, outdoor seating, and access to underground parking.

Pending final city approval, Pablo hopes to break ground on the $32 million development this year. The museum is hoping to be moved into its new space by early 2021.

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