Harness the Impulse

the symbiotic relationship between an individual and the community

Nick Meyer, illustrated by Garrett Brunker |

As you’ve likely noticed if you’ve been down Barstow Street in the last couple of weeks, the sidewalks are now populated with a charming variety of figurative and abstract sculptures, from a giant reclining turtle and a great dane trying to shake your hand, to an old woman with an apron-full of veggies and a rusty old bison. These new characters are of course part of the new Sculpture Tour Eau Claire – a program that will bring roughly 25 new sculptures to town every year, changing out those you see now for fresh ones every spring (except each year we get to keep one). The initiative is patterned after a similar, quite successful program in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Still, community sculpture programs like this are fairly rare, with only roughly half a dozen in North America. Despite this, we managed to pull one off right here in river city. How? I’ll get to that in a minute.

Inside The Local Store at Volume One, we have a large, 30-foot-long hand painted sign with a quote from William James that reads, “The community stagnates without the impulse of the individual. The impulse dies away without the interest of the community.” To us, this quote spotlights the entire purpose of Volume One and everything we do, from the magazine and website to the events and store. We pay attention. We support the individual’s impulse to create – whether it’s an event, a business, a piece of art, etc – and add value by assuring the community knows about those creations, and has access to the fruits. But in a broader sense, this quote represents what’s been happening in the Eau Claire area for the last several years. More than ever, people with an impulse to make something happen are getting support from their neighbors in a variety of ways. And it’s what happened with the Sculpture Tour.

To be clear, there are dozens of people, businesses, and organizations that played a role in bringing the newly formed Sculpture Tour to our downtown (including in our small way, we at Volume One). Hundreds of volunteer hours have been logged and tens of thousands of sponsor dollars have been spent. And while it’s easy to see a community has pulled together around an idea and together created a significant contribution to Eau Claire – it’s important we also recognize what had to happen first for there to be 26 sculptures populating our downtown streets right now.

One woman had a vision. An impulse.

It’s important we also recognize what had to happen first for there to be 26 sculptures populating our downtown streets right now. One woman had a vision. An impulse.

Anyone who’s met and worked with Sherry Mohr on this project would likely agree – she’s kinda crazy. Not the bad, “I-know-where-you-live” crazy. The good “I’ve-got-this-idea-and-nothing-will-stop-me” crazy. When Sherry started pursuing this idea less than two years ago, she was relatively new to the area and didn’t know many of the people it would take to pull together such a massive project. I was part of a group invited to one of the first meetings to hear her out. We all listened as she described what she wanted to do – find the money and the people and the know-how to put dozens of sculptures up and down downtown streets all at the same time – over and over every year. It sounded daunting. But slowly, she appeared before various community groups and city officials. She gained momentum, and help. Before we knew what hit us, up went 26 sculptures and the proof was there – Sherry and her newfound circle of volunteers orchestrated a major accomplishment. She had an impulse, and the community had interest.

These are the people who will make a lasting impact on our community. The starters. The crazy ones. These are the people we need here in our midst to keep moving us forward. Whether they’re Chippewa Valley born and raised or life has somehow dropped them here only recently, not a single one can be turned away. That means we continue developing the support network, and that we’re ready as individuals to get involved. All the impulses in the world mean nothing unless we show interest – and if we don’t, the impulses will stop. The goal is a civic environment where all ideas have a foothold. 

And for those of you with the ideas – as Sherry’s story indicates, you don’t have to know the right people at first – you will find them, and they will find you. And while I know Sherry will downplay her role in the Sculpture Tour, pushing praise towards all the volunteers and sponsors (and rightfully so) – she was the impetus, the starter. And you can be one too.