Twenty Eleven

a look back at stuff that happened in the last 365 days

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Ian Kloster

Well, what do you know, it’s 2012. Who saw that coming? To celebrate, let’s look back at a small selection of 2011’s more notable local and state happenings. And by “more notable” I mean “the stuff I care about” because I’m the one writing this.

What I Will Not Be Missing:
Hastings Way Road Construction

Although it really wasn’t that long of a timeframe, it feels like the construction on Hastings Way lasted roughly 11 years. For those who lived near the recently repaved corridor, the summer was marked by the constant rerouting of traffic. I swear the usability of some intersections changed daily, based largely on where the construction workers happened to park their tractor for lunch. Now while some people possess a magic power called “basic sense of direction,” I can usually only successfully drive somewhere if  I’ve already been there 20-30 times. So I was happy when things got finished in fall. However, to be honest, I don’t see much different from before. One exception: the wonky intersection at Brackett and Hastings induces slightly less panic that I’m turning into oncoming traffic while trying to get behind Mega Foods.

What I Will Be Missing:
The Wisconsin Arts Board

Amongst 2011’s many controversial state budget cuts was funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board. Over two-thirds of the board’s budget was removed, and it was demoted from a self-contained “agency” to a “program” placed within the Department of Tourism. This move makes Wisconsin one of the nation’s poorest financial supporters of the arts, eliminating numerous grants and programs designed to foster wholly Wisconsin art. To me, the biggest slap in the face was associating the arts with tourism. Yes, the arts can do wonders for tourism, and that’s where much of its measurable economic impact comes from, but this should be seen as more of a fantastic byproduct than the core mission. What about Wisconsin artists – the ones who live and work here?

What Sorely Disappointed Me:
ENGAGE Charter School

There was a lot of excitement in the early weeks of January 2011 that Eau Claire might be experimenting with an arts- and project-based school – the ENGAGE Public Creative Arts & Culture Charter School. But by the end of the month, the Eau Claire Area School District Board had unanimously voted down the proposal. They generally supported the idea, but cited bad timing and lack of funds. Last we heard, the school’s supporters were still pursuing the concept, possibly in a nearby district. Besides providing what looked to be a fantastic opportunity for local kids, the school could have been another magnet to attract creatives to the area.