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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Monday, Feb. 4th, 2019

State Theatre Building Sold and Its Future May Include the Performing Arts

State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire
State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire’s landmark State Theatre – which has sat unused since the opening of the Pablo Center at the Confluence last fall – has a new owner, and could soon become a home for youth programming, artistic performances, and more. Last week the 92-year-old theater complex, 316 Eau Claire St., was purchased by Elk Mound-based Azara Properties.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there.” – Joe Luginbill

While Azara will own the building, it will be operated and programmed by the Luginbill Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by Joe Luginbill, a self-described “social entrepreneur” and president of the Eau Claire Area School Board.

Luginbill said in an interview that details of the foundation’s plans for the State Theatre won’t be announced for a few weeks. However, Luginbill said he was excited to play a role in reviving a community staple, which began its life as a movie palace and then spent 30 years as home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there,” Luginbill said, noting that advisory committees on youth programming and fine arts were already being formed. He noted that, contrary to previous reports, the building’s deed includes no restrictions on using it as a performing arts venue. (Originally, such restrictions were cited as a way to keep the State from becoming a direct competitor to the Pablo Center.)

“We’ll have a little bit of something for everybody,” Luginbill said. The facility will still be called the State, and Luginbill hopes to breath new life into the building while also preserving its historic nature.

“There will be some aspects of what we are doing that will be maintaining what was there in the past, but there will be some exciting new ventures of things that haven’t been done in the area,” Luginbill said.

The Luginbill Children’s Foundation was founded in December 2016. Joe Luginbill serves as the nonprofit group’s president, and his parents and siblings are board members. According to its website, the foundation has launched several youth-centered programs, from cooking classes to music scholarship funds.

Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who owns several properties and businesses in the Eau Claire area, including Azara, a hookah and vape shop on Water Street. Hashlamoun also owns the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as My Office Lounge, a coffee shop and bar.

Pam Rasmussen, president of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, which owned the State, said the sale closed Thursday, Jan. 31. “I’m glad it’s someone who’s going to work to restore it and do something that works with the arts community,” Rasmussen said of the buyers.

Neither she nor Luginbill disclosed the building’s sale price, but the Leader-Telegram, citing Eau Claire County property records, reported that it was $195,000. (The previous asking price for the 40,000-square-foot facility was $450,000.) The State closed held its last events in August, right before its successor, the Pablo Center at the Confluence, opened just down the street. Many of the old theater’s contents – including furniture, computers, and pianos – were sold at an auction in December. Now, the sale of the building itself will allow ECRAC to close its own books for good.

Like many Eau Claire residents, Luginbill has strong memories associated with the State Theatre. From an early age he took part in Eau Claire Children’s Theatre productions on the stage, and he was part of the audience for other shows.

“We’re still in pretty early stages,” Luginbill said, “but in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing more information when we have it, and ways that the community can get more involved. If people have ideas or energy that they can bring to the table, we welcome that.”

Learn more about the Luginbill Children’s Foundation at or contact them at (715) 255-0819.

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Friday, Feb. 1st, 2019

Olson’s Ice Cream to Open Haymarket Landing Location in Downtown Eau Claire

Olson's Ice Cream, Chippewa Falls
Olson's Ice Cream, Chippewa Falls

At the end of a historically frigid week, another scoop of frozen news has arrived, one that will undoubtedly be more welcome in the Chippewa Valley than the polar vortex: For the first time in 75 years, Olson’s Ice Cream will be serving up its signature product somewhere other than its quaint shop on Bridge Street in Chippewa Falls. On Friday, Feb. 1, Olson’s revealed that it is expanding into Eau Claire with a 2,300-square-foot store inside Haymarket Landing, a mixed-use building at the corner of South Barstow and Eau Claire streets. The new store is expected to open this spring.

“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen,” said Jeremy Hunt, Olson’s co-owner and general manager.

“Olson’s has had plans to come to Eau Claire since the ’80s, and we are excited to finally make it happen.” – Jeremy Hunt, co-owner and general manager, Olson’s Ice Cream 

Back in January, the legendary local purveyor of frozen treats, announced it would be expanding into Eau Claire, but kept the spot a secret until Friday morning. Olson’s held a contest on its Facebook page, soliciting guesses about the location of the new store and promising free ice cream for a year to three customers who guessed the new site correctly. Nearly 1,200 people submitted guesses, many of them pointing to the former Smiling Moose, 329 Riverfront Terrace, or the former Lynn’s Chatterbox Cafe, 1410 S Hastings Way, as potential locations.

“We were very humbled and amazed by all the feedback,” said Hunt, whose parents, Dan and Linda, bought Olson’s from its founding family in 2007. (Forty to 50 Olson’s fans correctly identified the Haymarket Landing area as the shop’s future site.)

At a press conference, the Hunts said they are aiming to open the new location at 80 S. Barstow St. by Memorial Day. The shop will have 50 to 70 seats – including, most likely, some on the sidewalk along Barstow Street – and will create as many as 25 new jobs, the Hunts said. The expansion will entail some new offerings beyond its signature ice cream flavors such as Butter Pecan and Chocolate Monster. “With two locations, we will be able to bring even more treats to our customers, and we’re developing some new products for the spring opening,” Jeremy Hunt said.

While Olson’s has considered staking a claim in Eau Claire for years, Jeremy Hunt’s decision to join the family business last year helped push the idea into reality, Dan Hunt said. The family considered numerous sites around the city – including near Oakwood Mall, on Clairemont Avenue, and elsewhere – before settling on the Haymarket Landing storefront, which has been empty since the mixed-used building opened in 2016.

“It’s a beautiful location, a beautiful building, and we can’t wait to open in Eau Claire,” said Dan Hunt, adding that the site’s proximity to the Pablo Center at the Confluence, Phoenix Park, and other downtown amenities made it ideal. The Hunts are working with contractor Market & Johnson and River Valley Architects to design and build the shop.

Haymarket Landing features a floor of commercial space below five floors of UW-Eau Claire student housing – meaning 400 potential customers will literally be living in the same building.

The Haymarket Landing building in Downtown Eau Claire
The Haymarket Landing building in Downtown Eau Claire

Ice Cream Flowing Downtown ... 

The new Olson’s will be the second ice cream shop to open in downtown Eau Claire in recent years. In 2017, Blayne and Kayla Midthun opened Ramone’s Ice Cream Parlor at 503 Galloway St. – just a few blocks from Haymarket Landing. Blayne Midthun said the downtown location – which is right off the bike trail and next to two busy streets, Farwell and Galloway – has been a big factor in Ramone’s success.

“Of course it would be nice if we could continue to be the only ice cream parlor in downtown Eau Claire, but we know that we can’t control what’s going on outside of our doors,” Midthun said.

“Today, people have many options for where they will eat, drink coffee, (and) be entertained, and now they will have another option for ice cream,” he added. Ramone’s sells Madison-made Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream, as well as sundaes, malts, pies, and craft sodas.

Olson’s founder Albert J. Olson began making “homaid” ice cream with a partner at Knapp Dairy in 1923. In 1944, he relocated to Chippewa Falls to open Olson’s Creamland Dairy, where he processed milk and made ice cream. Today, the business is still in the same building at 611 N. Bridge St. In 2007, the Olson family sold the business to the Hunt family, who continue to operate it. While Olson’s Ice Cream has been previously been served up at other locations – including numerous restaurants, Festival Foods, and the 9 Degrees ice cream cart – this will be the first time Olson’s itself has opened a new location since the Second World War.

A landmark at the “original” Olson’s is a larger-than-life ice cream cone that tempts passersby from the sidewalk. Dan Hunt said he plans on getting a similar giant cone for the Eau Claire shop, either to place on the sidewalk or on the awning above the front door as a visual cue to the delicious treats being scooped inside.

Learn more at or by finding Olson’s Ice Cream on Facebook.

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Monday, Jan. 28th, 2019

Grab a Beverage and a High Score at New Artisan Forge Coffee Shop/Pinball Arcade

Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.)
Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.)

We’ve got some news for coffee lovers, pinball pros, and art explorers alike: Pablo properties announced Monday morning they will open a new coffee and pinball lounge in Artisan Forge Studios (1106 Mondovi Rd.) during the last week of February.  The venue, appropriately named Skill Shot, will offer coffee drinks, tea, craft beer, wine, and food to enjoy while plunking away on a selection of pinball machines. Quieter areas will be available in the modern site for meetings, quiet study sessions, or chill time. Skill Shot and Artisan Forge will work together to build an even more vibrant community of visitors to the area, according to Artisan Forge founder Greg Johnson.  “I am most excited to see a café full of people who have made Artisan Forge Studios a destination as a result of Skill Shot and the amazingly talented individuals of the Artisan Forge community,” he said. After the opening in February, Skill Shot’s hours will be Monday-Friday 7am-7pm and Saturday 8am-2pm.

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Wednesday, Jan. 23rd, 2019

Rock Fest Releases 2019 Lineup

Rob Zombie, Rock Fest 2017
Rob Zombie, Rock Fest 2017

Jefferson Starship lyrics might be the least rock n roll way to describe Rock Fest, but “we built this city on rock n roll” is – all things considered – a pretty fair sum-up of what goes down on Cadott’s festival grounds every summer. It is, quite accurately, a city of its own – a place where rock fans of all ages, shapes, and sizes can come together for a heavy-hitting weekend of some of the genre’s greats.

And today, the fest announced its 2019 lineup for its 26th year, happening July 18-20 (with an extra so-called Bonus Bash on July 17). Topping off the list of nearly 70 bands is big names like Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Five Finger Death Punch, Breaking Benjamin, Mastodon, and Evanescence. 

As always, it’s sure to be a grand time as the grounds get transformed into the biggest rock party the area has ever seen. Plenty of the biggest names in rock will perform, some choice tribute bands, and local band Stare Across is on the lineup as well (shout out to them).

All Lure Lock Top Tier Lounge, VIP, Reserved Lawn, 3-Day and 1-Day GA tickets are on sale right now – plus VIP and GA camping. You can find that and lots more at Go get ‘em.

Here’s the lineup in full ...


Wednesday July 17 (Bonus Bash for three-day ticket holders)


Thursday July 18


Friday July 19


Saturday July 20


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Monday, Jan. 21st, 2019

Crazy for Kroeze: 'Voice' finalist to headline 3 (sold out) Pablo Center shows

Barron native and finalist on The Voice, Chris Kroeze gained tremendous national exposure in 2018. In March, he’ll return to the area for a show at the Pablo Center.
Barron native and finalist on The Voice, Chris Kroeze gained tremendous national exposure in 2018. In March, he’ll return to the area for a show at the Pablo Center.


UPDATE: The Pablo Center has since announced two additional Chris Kroeze shows following the sell-out of the original March 29 performance.  All three shows (March 29 at 7pm, March 30 at 7pm, and March 30 at 9:30pm) have sold out!

The Pablo Center at the Confluence announced Monday that nationally celebrated Barron, Wis. musician Chris Kroeze will headline at the RCU Theatre March 30 at 7pm. The singer-songwriter was the runner-up in NBC’s singing competition program The Voice, where he was coached by country megastar Blake Shelton.

“I remember reading about the Pablo Center when the discussions first started about it being built, the quality of the room, the acoustics … ” Kroeze said. “All I could think was how cool that was going to be to have in this area. My next thought was, ‘What do I have to do to get to play there?’ ”

"I remember reading about the Pablo Center when the discussions first started about it being built, the quality of the room, the acoustics … All I could think was how cool that was going to be to have in this area. My next thought was, ‘What do I have to do to get to play there?’ ” – Singer Chris Kroeze

His performance at The Pablo Center will include a mix of songs that he performed on The Voice, covers, and his own original music. Kroeze said he feels fortunate to be backed by top-notch musicians, and confident that it will be a fun show.

“The support for him has been a lovely thing to watch,” the Pablo’s Director of Artistic Programming, Brenna St. George Jones said.  “It’s not because he’s on TV. It’s because he’s Chris and he’s from Barron and we know him.”

“For me it was the entire culmination of what we built the building for.” Pablo’s Executive Director Jason Jon Anderson said. “The building is sort of meant to highlight the best of national and international talent, but also to elevate local. Chris is the culmination of both of those things into one.” It is Anderson’s hope that musicians such as Kroeze will think of the Pablo Center as their homebase as more locally grown talent finds success.

St. George Jones is excited to see Kroeze, as a local musician, take the same stage as national acts such as The Blind Boys of Alabama and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Kroeze is thankful for the support he has received from his hometown and the Chippewa Valley during and after his run on The Voice.

“This is my home, it’s where my grandparents and parents all lived and raised their families,” he said. “I’m proud to be from Northwest Wisconsin and this is where I want to be, and where I’m going to stay.”

Ticket sales open to the general public on Thursday, Jan. 31, after a two-day presale for Pablo Center members Jan. 24-25.  For more information or to purchase tickets, visit

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Tuesday, Jan. 15th, 2019

Eau Claire Hadn’t Given Out a 'Key to the City' for Decades ... Until Tuesday

January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left), Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters (center, holding key to city), and Jamf's Jason Wudi (right).
January 15, on stage in the RCU Theater at the Pablo Center on the Confluence: Jamf Software CEO Dean Hager (left) and Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters.

In Medieval times, receiving a key to city was a great honor, signifying that the recipient could come and go from a walled fortress at will. Eau Claire has no walls – only a couple of rivers and a now-famous confluence – and it hasn’t given out ceremonial keys in decades. That changed Tuesday when City Manager Dale Peters handed an oversized wooden key to Dean Hager, CEO of Jamf Software, the Eau Claire-born firm that is holding its annual SubZero employee conference in town the week.

SubZero has drawn about 800 Jamf employees from 15 countries for a mid-winter confab at the Pablo Center at the Confluence (the arts center built, in part, through the generosity of Jamf’s co-founder, Zach Halmstad, and his business partners, Jason Wudi and Julia Johnson, also early Jamf-ers). The annual gathering has traditionally been held in Minneapolis, site of Jamf’s headquarters and largest office, but the company decided to return to its roots this year, in part because the Pablo Center provides a spacious enough home for the all-employee gathering.

Peters gave key to Hager, the CEO, in a Tuesday morning ceremony in the RCU Theatre. In an interview, Peters said he didn’t recall such a key being given out before during his 30 years with the city. The sign of civic respect was the brainchild of City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle and Visit Eau Claire, the region’s tourism promotion agency.

“The presenting of the key is a traditional ceremony in many international communities,” Peters said, “and we thought it was appropriate to develop a key that could be used for this very large, very unique, very international event.”

Jamf was honored in a uniquely Eau Claire fashion: Peters said the key was made from reclaimed ash wood from city trees. “The community is very proud of Jamf, and the community is very proud to be part of Jamf’s history,” Peters added.

Can we expect the city to begin giving out more keys? Perhaps, Peters said, although before that happens we can expect the city to develop procedures and guidelines on the who, when, where, and how of such civic honors.

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Fireball Run Season Featuring Eau Claire Debuts

Local Fireball Run team car.
Local Fireball Run team car.

The latest season of the TV series Fireball Run, which was recorded partly in Eau Claire, makes its debut Jan. 15 on Amazon Prime. The series – a combination road rally and life-sized trivia competition – began its 11th season in Eau Claire, and the city and its sights are featured prominently in several episodes. Forty teams – including one from the Chippewa Valley – departed the “green light city” in September 2017 and traveled 2,000 miles across the Midwest to Rapid City, South Dakota. The local team consisted of Luke Hanson (executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corp.) and Julie Thoney (community service and economic development manager of Xcel), who won first place in the competition’s Alternate Fuel Class. Rather than racing from one town to the next, “Driving teams are tasked with clues which, if solved on time, lead to an array of amazing artifacts, physical challenges, and unusual experiences spanning the Midwest,” a press release stated. Offbeat destinations included the Minnesota birthplace of water skiing and the location of the real “American Gothic” in Iowa. All 30 episodes of the season are available to stream by Amazon Prime members.

The Fireball Run starting line.
The Fireball Run starting line.

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Monday, Jan. 7th, 2019

Storylords: Rediscovering a Low-Budget Wisconsin-made Educational Sci-fi Epic

Larry Laird as the evil Storylord Thorzuul, a caped, sunglasses-rocking villain, shown here in anguish. Image:
Actor Larry Laird as the evil Storylord Thorzuul, a caped, sunglasses-rocking villain, shown here in bitter anguish. (Image: Wisconsin Public Television Education)

Last month, Wisconsin Public Radio took a deep dive into a public television show many of you have seen ... but perhaps only vaguely remember. Like all good epic adventures, PBS’s low-budget live-action educational show Storylords has passed into legend. But like Tolkien’s Ring of Power (“ wants to be found...”) the show has emerged from the obscurity of random remembrances to the slightly less obscure realm of YouTube, where it’s been racking up tens of thousands of views, presumably from people who grew up with it. The short-lived show was no Sesame Street or Magic School Bus, but it was still memorable ... in its own quirky way.

Storylords consists of twelve 15-minute programs, produced in 1984 and aired in the ’80s and ’90s. It focuses on building reading comprehension strategies through the use of fantasy storylines where a brother and sister are drafted into a secret magical battle spilling over from a different planet. As is the case in all battles betwixt good and evil, excellent reading skills are required to thwart the bad guys.

What many people who remember the show – even Chippewa Vallians – don’t realize is that it was produced at the University of Wisconsin–Stout.

The WPR piece does a fantastic job resurrecting the Storylords backstory, interviewing the show’s producers and, of course, the actors – such as  Tanya Tiffany who played the hero “Mandy.” And best of all, they talked with Larry Laird who played the show’s caped, sunglasses-rocking villain Thorzuul, who seeks to turn all those who can't understand what they read into stone statues.

Here’s what Storylords director and producer Ed Jakober told WPR about the production:

We had a local WPT production outlet here (in Menomonie). We were assigned most of the educational programming from ECB. That was based on whatever the need was in Wisconsin at the time. ... We spent two years on the program. The first year-and-a-half was spent on research, methodology, reading strategies and the educational process. Then, we hired writer Jed MacKay … He came up with the "Storylords" concept. 

We filmed around town, away from the studio ... Thorzuul's lair? OK let's go inside Mabel Tainter Theater or the library. We filmed at Menomonie East School — it still stands. All the kids would show up. We’d set up a wide shot in the classroom, then they'd go outside and play. After a while, we'd have them do lines. We'd do at least two (episodes) every day in the school.

As for the actors, all the extras we got from the UW-Stout theater department. The kids were just kids.

Listen to or read the story online:

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