Tuesday, Feb. 6th, 2018

6 Wisconsinites to Watch at the Winter Olympics – Including One from Eau Claire

Eau Claire native Ben Loomis
Eau Claire native Ben Loomis will compete in Nordic Combined at this year's Winter Olympics in South Korea.

The Winter Olympics will be half a world away in South Korea, but that doesn’t mean Wisconsin won’t be represented when the torch is lit on February 9. Athletes form the Badger State will be competing on behalf of the red, white, and blue in at least six sports at the XXIII Winter Olympiad. Here they are:


Eau Claire native Ben Loomis will fly – and race – for the gold in the Nordic Combined event as part of Team USA next month. Although he’s just 19, Loomis is a veteran of international competition: He’s taken part in the Junior World Championships four times, the World Championships last year, and the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Norway, where he won a silver medal. He earned his spot on this year’s Olympic team because of his strong showings in the U.S. Olympic trials in December and the World Cup in France this month. “I am very honored,” Loomis told the Leader-Telegram. “I’ve been watching the results of my teammates, and I knew I had a good chance. But it’s setting in slowly.” As you might guess, Nordic Combined encompasses two Nordic sports, ski jumping and cross country skiing. First competitors jump, then they take part in a ski race in which their starting time is based on the distance of their jump. Ben and his brother, Adam – who is also a member of Team USA – moved to Park City, Utah, a few years ago for better training opportunities, but they’re still making their hometown proud. According to Leader-Telegram sportswriter and local ski jumping historian Ron Buckli, Loomis is only the fifth Eau Claire skier to compete in the Olympics, and the first since 1984.


The U.S. women’s ice hockey team heading to PyeongChang, South Korea, is full of Badger State talent. In fact, four of them played for the University of Wisconsin: goaltender Alex Rigsby and forwards Meghan Duggan, Hilary Knight, and Brianna Decker. A fifth, forward Amanda Kessel, grew up in Madison but attended the University of Minnesota. Several of these women were on the silver medal-winning teams in 2014 and 2010, to they’re sure to be eyeing the gold in South Korea.


The men’s hockey squad has plenty of Wisconsin ties, too, starting at the top: Team USA is coached by Tony Granato, who also happens to coach the Badger men and is a Wisconsin alum himself. Assistant coach Chris Chelios and general manager Jim Johannson also skated for the Badgers, while team member Bobby Butler plays professionally for the Milwaukee Admirals.


The Upper Midwest is the center of the bullseye for curling in the United States, and that’s clear from this year’s Olympic roster: Every member of Team USA is from Wisconsin or Minnesota. The squad includes siblings Becca and Matt Hamilton (who will compete with the women’s and men’s teams, respectively, as well as in the mixed doubles tournament) and Nina Roth. All are from the Madison suburb of McFarland.


Wisconsin has a long history of speed skating excellence (including Olympic legends such as Eric Heiden, Dan Jansen, and Bonnie Blair) and is home to the U.S. Olympic training site, the Pettit Center in West Allis. It’s no surprise there are two Wisconsinites on the 2018 edition of Team USA, namely two-time Olympian Mitchell Whitmore of Waukesha and Emery Lehman, a Marquette University junior and 2014 Olympian.


Even among all the speedy and slippery events of the Winter Olympics, the skeleton stands out for its daredevilry: Competitors ride face down and head-first on an icy track at speeds up to 90 mph. (Don’t try this at home, kids!) Matt Antoine – a native of Prairie du Chien – won a bronze medal in the sport at the Sochi Olympics in 2014, and he’s aiming for the medal stand again in PyeongChang.

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Friday, Feb. 2nd, 2018

UW-Stout Students Team Up with Radical Jewelry Makeover

UW-Stout art students to take part in jewelry makeover.
UW-Stout art students to take part in jewelry makeover.

In a recent press release from UW-Stout’s Office of University Communications, they announced a collaborative project between UW-Stout, UW-Madison, and UW-Milwaukee jewelry students. Together, they will join professional jewelers and Radical Jewelry Makeover, an organization whose mission is to educate the public about recycling and cutting down on material waste. Instead of throwing away old or unwanted jewelry, Radical Jewelry Makeover is encouraging people to recycle it by making donations to their project team.

Donations of all jewelry types and materials can be made starting Feb. 20 at a number of drop-off sites. In Menomonie, drop off your donations in the Applied Arts Building at UW-Stout’s School of Art and Design Office. By donating your jewelry, you will get a coupon to buy repurposed jewelry items. Donation forms are available at drop-off sites or online.

Radical Jewelry Makeover has been established since 2007, but this will be the first project held in Wisconsin. Overall, the project will last through March, with the final proceeds of jewelry sales going to Ethical Metalsmiths – a nonprofit organization dedicated to using ethical materials for jewelry, and to fund student scholarships.

Kathleen Kennedy, co-director of Radical Jewelry Makeover, says, “It’s allowing the students to use the techniques they are learning in their regular classes and how to apply those to make old materials new.”

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Thursday, Feb. 1st, 2018

11 Wintery Wisconsin Festivals (Perfect for a Day Trip)

Image: facebook.com/IceCastlesMN
The Ice Castles (Stillwater, Minnesota). Image: facebook.com/IceCastlesMN

If you’re looking for ways to get out of the house in the coming weeks, take a peek at some upcoming winter celebrations listed below. Most of these festivals are a reasonable distance from Eau Claire – perfect for a day trip with your friends or family.

1. The Ice Castles

Stillwater, Minnesota (1 hr 16 min from Eau Claire)

Jan. 6-Feb. 28 – The ice castles of downtown Stillwater are still open! Besides touring the ice castles, the princesses from Frozen will be there from noon to 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Fire shows will be performed Fridays and Saturdays 7pm until 10pm, too. For more information about their hours of operation, tickets, parking, and events, go here.

2. Rochester WinterFest

Rochester, Minnesota (1 hr 59 min)

Jan. 18-Feb. 18 – Enjoy community-centered activities at this 16th annual festival in Rochester, Minnesota. Anticipate wintertime events filled with food, music, and entertainment. Among them will be the Candlelight Ski, Baconfest, sleigh rides, and the Cool School Plunge. View their website.

3. Saint Paul Winter Carnival

Saint Paul, Minnesota (1 hr 23 min)

Jan. 25-Feb. 10 – Consider taking your family to the Saint Paul Winter Carnival this year. There will be special attractions such as a Fire & Ice art show, parades, the Ice Palace Lighting Show, and much more. The carnival takes place near Rice Park and the Landmark Center, and the Minnesota State Fairgrounds. The majority of events are FREE and open to the public. Go here for more information.

Madison Winter Festival. Image: facebook.com/madisonwinterfestival
Madison Winter Festival. Image: facebook.com/madisonwinterfestival

4. Madison Winter Festival

Madison, Wisconsin (2 hr 47 min)

Feb. 3-4 – Join the Madison community in celebrating their Winter Festival in Elver Park. Look forward to snow carving, the Ice Age Challenge, and the Frosty 5k. Read all about it.

5. Winter Carnival

Luck, Wisconsin (1 hr 35 min)

Feb. 8-11 – You’re in Luck! Check out the Winter Carnival for traditional fair festivities, an ice fishing contest, a parade, and fireworks. View their event information.

6. Ham Lake Snowbowl

Ham Lake, Minnesota (1 hr 50 min)

Feb. 10 – The events of the Ham Lake Snowbowl include a fat tire bike race, a broomball tournament, and a snow sculpture contest. Follow clues to locate the Snowbowl Medallion and win some cash! Find out more.

7. Freeze Fest

Whitewater, Wisconsin (3 hr 16 min)

Feb. 10-11 – The Freeze Fest of Whitewater will benefit the Special Olympics by hosting the Polar Plunge and a chili cook-off. More details here.

8. Bar Stool Races

Drummond, Wisconsin (2 hr 12 min)

Feb. 17 – How do you race bar stools on snow? Attach them to skis! The participants decorate their own bar stools and will begin racing at 12pm. Fill up on food and drinks, then join in the raffle for a chance to win prizes. Check it out here.

9. Winter Fest

Chetek, Wisconsin (42 min)

Feb. 23-24 – Have fun at Winter Fest in Chetek. They’ll have activities for all ages including races and sledding, and other winter-themed events throughout Friday and Saturday. Learn more about Winter Fest here.

10. Grumpy Old Men Festival

Wabasha, Minnesota (1 hr 7 min)

Feb. 23-24 – Did you enjoy the 1993 comedy Grumpy Old Men? If so, you may want to check out the 25th annual Grumpy Old Men Festival where the movie was set. This festival will feature a showing of the film, an ice fishing contest, live music, a spaghetti dinner, and more. Go here for more details.

11. Neillsville Winter Carnival

Neillsville Wisconsin (59 min)

Feb. 23-25 – Head out to Neillsville for their Winter Carnival to see a Variety & Comedy Show, eat some pancakes, or volunteer for the Polar Plunge. To read more about this event, go here.

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Tuesday, Jan. 30th, 2018

Rock Fest Reveals 2018 Lineup

DIsturbed, 2009. Image: Razvan Orendovici | CC 2.0
DIsturbed, 2009. Image: Razvan Orendovici | CC 2.0

It’s an extremely huge year for Rock Fest, one of the Valley’s craziest music festivals that celebrates that most powerful of musical genres and the culture of fans that make it great – rock. This summer’s fest – which blasts from July 12 through 14 (it's an extra spooky Friday the 13th weekend to boot) – marks 25 years of awesomeness in Cadott.

And the lineup of rock excellence, which released today, is nothing to shake a flying-V guitar at. Heading up the silver anniversary is heavy-hitters Disturbed and Incubus (who are both making their Rock Fest debut) along with Godsmack, Halestorm, Rise Against, Black Label Society, and Seether, plus a ton of great bands – classic and modern alike. There’s some solo performances from some legendary classic rock acts like Dee Snider of Twisted Sister and Ace Frehley of KISS. And two of the Chippewa Valley’s own – picard and Filthy Sweet – will get to melt some faces on the Rock Fest stage as well.

More artists will be added later, but here’s the current lineup in full...

Rise Against
Black Label Society
Dee Snider
Nothing More
Ace Frehley
Pop Evil
Adelitas Way
Skid Row
Powerman 5000
Through Fire
Deadset Society
Shallow Side
Blacktop Mojo
Dead Girls Academy
Beyond Threshold
Blacklite District
The Missing Letters
Amerakin Overdose
Old Voltage
Cowboys From Hell
Black Rainbow
Maiden Minneapolis
The Goodbars
Emissary Echo
Crashing Atlas
Scattered Hamlet
Maryann Cotton
Screaming For Silence
Hammer Down Hard
Everyday Losers
Lydia Can’t Breathe
Standing Alliance
Strate Jak It
Greater Than Three
Smiling Politely
The Cragars
Filthy Sweet
Benjamin Raye Band
Lady Luck

There’s always tons to do at the unique festival between the sideshows, tons of different vendors, dozens of tattoo artists with guns loaded, and the myriad activities all day each day.

Presale three-day general admission tickets for 2018 sold out in under two hours, and keep in mind, three-day ticket holders are invited to an exclusive Bonus Bash on Wednesday, July 11 that will feature some of the biggest names coming to the festival this year.

So rock fans, now is not the time to dawdle. Make sure to grab your tickets and buckle in because after 25 years of finessing their vibe, Rock Fest 2018 is ready to blow the doors off.

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Friday, Jan. 26th, 2018

New Yorker Will Lead Artistic Programming at Confluence

The Confluence Arts Center, January 2018
The Confluence Arts Center, January 2018

A woman who most recently served as senior director of an arts center at Columbia University in New York City has been hired as the director of artistic programming for the Confluence Arts Center.

Brenna St. George Jones, who has roots in Wisconsin and Minnesota, was announced as director of arts programming Friday after a two-month search. The Confluence Arts Center is under construction in downtown Eau Claire and is scheduled to open in fall 2018.

“I am thrilled to join the Confluence team, and the Chippewa Valley community, as we embark on this exciting new venture,” St. George Jones said in a press release. “It’s not often you are offered the chance be a part of something extraordinary, in the truest sense of the word. I look forward to highlighting the best of an already thriving regional arts scene, while bringing to the Confluence Center the world-class performers and diverse audiences worthy of its world-class venues.”

St. George Jones will be tasked with creating the inaugural season for the performing arts center, which is a partnership between UW-Eau Claire and community groups and is being built with city, county, state, and philanthropic funding.

Check out the full press release ...


Elaine Coughlin
Marketing Coordinator
Confluence Arts Center

Director of Artistic Programming Brings Over 20 of Years Experience to the Confluence

(Eau Claire, WI, January 26, 2018) – After a two-month national search, the Confluence Arts Center is pleased to announce that the position of Director of Artistic Programming has been filled. Brenna St. George Jones of New York, New York will fill this vital role and create the inaugural season. She is eager to bring her experience and talents to the Chippewa Valley and the Confluence Arts Center. She has built her career on the idea that the arts have a unique power to shape the world around them.

St. George Jones said, “I am thrilled to join the Confluence team, and the Chippewa Valley community, as we embark on this exciting new venture. It’s not often you are offered the chance be a part of something extraordinary, in the truest sense of the word. I look forward to highlighting the best of an already thriving regional arts scene, while bringing to the Confluence Center the world-class performers and diverse audiences worthy of its world-class venues.”

St. George Jones’ career highlights include being Company Manager for Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble as well as an extensive freelance career. St. George Jones worked for the Miller Theatre and Lenfest Center for the Arts at Columbia University School of the Arts over the past nine years where she most recently led as the Senior Director. The Confluence Arts Center is looking forward to bringing St. George Jones’ skills to this unique community arts project and its community partners that also include the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Acting Executive Director, Jason Jon Anderson said, “After an extensive national search I am excited to be adding Brenna’s skills and talents to the Confluence team. I know she will work with local artists, local musicians, literary artists, theatre groups and stakeholders to ensure an inaugural season that will fulfill the Confluence’s mission as well as highlight the incredible creative economy of this region. She will ensure that the Confluence Arts Centers programming meets and exceeds our regions expectations.”

St. George Jones has roots and ties in both Minnesota and Wisconsin making this an exciting move to a city that straddles big city and small-town life. She is eager to start her new position which will allow her to use her skills with new and exciting challenges.

About the Confluence Arts Center
Scheduled to open in fall 2018, the Confluence Arts Center will be located in downtown Eau Claire, Wisconsin and will include a 1,200-seat theatre and a flexible 400-seat theatre, rehearsal, dance and community rooms; visual arts studio and galleries, labs for sound and lighting, set and exhibit design, recording arts, multimedia production and costume design; a scene shop equipped to support the maker space and vocational training initiatives; administrative offices for management, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty and Visit Eau Claire staff. The Confluence Arts Center offers the community a facility capable of providing transformative training, learning and creative opportunities. The Confluence Arts Center will operate in support of a mission that is focused on augmenting and developing regional education opportunities in the performing and visual arts for people of all ages and backgrounds.

For more information, please contact Elaine Coughlin, Marketing Coordinator at the Confluence Arts Center, at 715-492-0300 or Elaine@ConfluenceEauClaire.com.

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Monday, Jan. 22nd, 2018

UW-Eau Claire Ranked No.1 in Wisconsin for LGBTQ Student Resources

Image: UW-Eau Claire
Image: UW-Eau Claire

In a press release from UW-Eau Claire, we have learned that the university has received the honor of being ranked as the best college in Wisconsin in terms of LGBTQ student support. UW-Eau Claire has gained this recognition from BestColleges.com in collaboration with Campus Pride, which can be seen on their “Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students in Every State” list.

In light of this status, UW-Eau Claire has claimed the third spot on the “50 Best Colleges for LGBTQ Students” list by College Choice in 2017. The staff at the Gender and Sexuality Resource Center of UW-Eau Claire has shared their excitement for the honor, and anticipate a future where the efforts of the students and staff can continue to foster a LGBTQ-positive community on campus. Chandler Roberts, a UW-Eau Claire student, comments, “I would add that although we’ve received this recognition in Wisconsin, that doesn’t mean there still isn’t room for necessary improvement to further the environment for the LGBTQ+ community here, but I am hopeful UW-Eau Claire will continue to move forward.”

Christopher Jorgenson, UW-Eau Claire’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center Director, says, “To have achieved this ranking speaks to the collaborative efforts on the part of faculty, staff, administrators and students to ensure that UW-Eau Claire is a safe and welcoming campus for LGBTQIA+ people.”

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Wednesday, Jan. 17th, 2018

5 Ways the Arts Impact Our Economy (Right Here in the Chippewa Valley)

Orchid Eaton, Saturday, January 13 at Haas Fine Arts Center in Eau Claire
Orchid Eaton, Saturday, January 13 at Haas Fine Arts Center in Eau Claire

Plays and art shows aren’t just a form of evening entertainment, there is a real economic benefit to the arts and culture industry – locally and nationwide.

Take Eau Claire County, for example. In a 2017 press release by the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center, they tell us that Americans for the Arts completed a study demonstrating the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations. The Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 study gives us insight into the specific economic data in Eau Claire County.

Here are some standout numbers from that study ...

1. $10,310,089

This is the annual amount of money brought in by Eau Claire County’s arts industry. Arts and culture organizations spend money locally to run their businesses, adding economic gain. Also, events hosted by these groups attract people to other Eau Claire destinations. If you’re from out of town, what will you need? Perhaps a meal at a local restaurant or an overnight stay at a nearby hotel.

2. 393

The number of full-time jobs created by the nonprofit arts and culture sector in Eau Claire County. In comparison, 4.6 million full-time jobs have been created by the arts industry across the United States.


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Friday, Jan. 12th, 2018

Despite Frigid Temps, New Year’s Shindig Raised $42K for Confluence

Images: Visit Eau Claire
Images: Visit Eau Claire

The year that will see the official opening of the Confluence Arts Center began with a successful fundraiser for the much-anticipated downtown arts venue. The second-annual “Light Up Eau Claire” New Year’s Eve celebration raised $42,000 for the Confluence, Visit Eau Claire announced this week. This topped the previous year’s total despite the subzero conditions that threatened to keep many New Year’s revelers at home and indoors.

“It warmed our hearts to see families, couples, groups of friends, and business colleagues enjoying the indoor venues, and even bundling up for the lantern parades and fireworks,” said Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire. “The arts vibe was incredible, with live music, a spectacular Lumière Claire lantern creation by artisan Pam Rindo, food, and fireworks displays all representative of the depth of Eau Claire’s creative culture and local talent.”

In addition to celebrating the new year and raising funds for the Confluence, the downtown events that welcomed the new year were designed to help draw visitors to Eau Claire during the winter. The money raised will go toward the operating reserve fund for the Confluence Art Center, which will include two theaters, galleries, a visual arts studio, and labs for set design, recording, sound, lighting, and costume design.

Ideas are already in the works for the Light Up Eau Claire events that will welcome 2019. “We still really want to have a rooftop viewing party for the fireworks, and will be charting weather contingencies moving forward,” John said.

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Wednesday, Jan. 10th, 2018

Wisconsin Public TV Show Highlights Jamf, Halmstad, and Eau Claire’s Rebirth

Zach on Wisconsin Public Television documentary, Start Up Wisconsin
Zach Halmstad on Wisconsin Public Television documentary Start Up Wisconsin

The entrepreneurial success of Zach Halmstad and Jamf Software – and how it has reflected and spurred the revival of downtown Eau Claire – is the subject of a new Wisconsin Public Television documentary, Start Up Wisconsin. The half-hour program (which aired last week and is now streaming on the WPT website) focuses prominently on Halmstad, the software firm he co-founded, and the efforts he had his partners undertook to remodel a defunct downtown hotel, which re-opened in 2016 as The Lismore.



“We wanted to feature entrepreneurs who have not just had a great idea and capitalized off of it, but who are driven by something ‘beyond the bottom line,” executive producer Laurie Gorman said. “In Zach’s case, (that was) his desire to use his successes to benefit his hometown.”

“We’ve been blessed to be very successful in our company. And if we’re not using that success to actually drive our entire community forward, we’re failing our friends and family.”  – Zach Halmstad

The program tells the stories of two Wisconsin entrepreneurs – Halmstad and UW-Madison scientist Katie Brenner – while also examining issues in the state’s economic and business climates. “The vast majority of businesses that are in Wisconsin are here because this is where the business owner lived when they started the business,” Steven Deller, professor of agriculture and applied economics at UW-Madison, explained in the program. That’s certainly the case for Halmstad: While a student at UW-Eau Claire, the Eau Claire native worked in tech support and saw the need for better software to manage Apple computers and devices. This led him to found Jamf in 2002, and the start up persevered despite being constantly told that to be taken seriously, Jamf should focus on software for Microsoft Windows machines instead. Now, the company has eight offices worldwide and 650 employees, including about 200 in downtown Eau Claire.

For the most prominent segments of the program about Eau Claire, check out the 4 minute and 17 minute marks. The program also discusses the role Halmstad and other like-minded visionaries had in pushing for the Confluence Arts Center, which will open later this year, as well as the challenge of turning the former Ramada Inn into The Lismore.

“We’ve been blessed to be very successful in our company,” Halmstad said in the program. “And if we’re not using that success to actually drive our entire community forward, we’re failing our friends and family.”

In addition to telling the story of Jamf, the program also includes plenty of images of downtown Eau Claire at its best, including Phoenix Park, the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market, Revival Records, Red’s Mercantile, The Informalist, and Grand Avenue Café.

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Thursday, Dec. 28th, 2017

Year in Review 2017 - Take the Quiz!

Things are moving fast in the Chippewa Valley. Crazy development projects, notable locals doing amazing things, creatives putting out stunning work, businesses reaching new levels of innovation — we really do live in a special place. But here’s our question for you: Were you paying attention? We do a Year In Review feature every year, and it's time to be tested by our editors, who have written questions designed to stump, befuddle, confuse, confound, and bewilder you. Are you a master of all things Western Wisconsin? Or did you let 2017 blow right by you?

Take the Quiz Here »

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