online museum project chronicles regional culture

Emily Kuhn, photos by Frank H. Robinson

Davenport talkin.’ Mary Burt from the Chippewa Valley Museum interviews Tangled Up in Hue co-owner Erin Roesler for during a recent art showing.

Since its 2001 launch, Wikipedia has grown into one of the largest reference websites. It has attracted roughly 65 million visitors, with over 14 million articles in more than 250 languages. Inspired by Wikipedia’s success and in need of a more accessible way to share cultural information about the area, the Chippewa Valley Museum is now putting the finishing touches on the valley’s own wikipedia:

“Everybody can enter something about something on Wikipedia – that’s the beauty of the internet,” Chippewa Valley Museum Editor Frank Smoot explained. “That was our initial impulse – how can we get more people involved in telling the stories of the Chippewa Valley? One way to do that is to get people at their computers telling their stories and sharing them with others inside of and far beyond the Chippewa Valley. A wiki is the perfect way to do that.”

Set to launch in August, ChippePedia was made possible by a $10,000 grant from Wisconsin Arts Board, which was looking for ways to share information about folk arts with Wisconsinites. The museum jumped at the opportunity to expand upon the stories already being shared through displays and festivals with first-hand memories and personal experiences from residents. Now that a UW-Eau Claire Information Systems class has created the wiki, the museum is currently collecting folk stories from residents so that when the test version launches at the museum in June, readers will find plenty of inspiration for their own stories.

As Smoot explained, the museum hopes to have a variety of stories on the wiki. For instance, there’s already a page on former resident Annette Shaw, a physician and doctor during the 1890s, when both fields were dominated by men. There’s also a page on Walter’s Beer, a local brew that gave Leinenkugel’s some healthy competition until the 70s.

“We think the best way to get (the site) to last beyond the grant period is to broaden it out so people have a very broad definition of what’s interesting to the Chippewa Valley,” explained Smoot. “If you’ve gone tubing at FATFAR, write about it. If you saw a celebrity down at The Joynt, write about it.”