Questioning the Locals: Jo Ellen Burke

Free-wheelin’ discussion with local folks

Tom Giffey, photos by Andrea Paulseth |


Jo Burke returned to her artistic roots in 2017 when she and her partner, Terry Meyer, opened 200 Main Art & Wine in downtown Eau Claire. Burke is a Milwaukee native who moved to Eau Claire 40 years ago. She spent her career teaching gifted education in the Eau Claire school district and served as the first female president of the Eau Claire Association of Educators. Now, in addition to owning and operating 200 Main she serves as president of the Eau Claire Public Arts Council.

What place in town considers you a “regular”?

Currently, River Prairie in Altoona. I love walking the beautiful path, checking out the eagles, and enjoying a walk with my friend Geri and our Great Dane puppy, Frida.

What’s the most positive local development since you moved here?

The leap that Zach Halmstad and others took to revitalize the Lismore Hotel was the fuel that caused the revitalization of Downtown. From there, many brave people took risks to develop what has become a vital Downtown community.

What frustrates you about the Chippewa Valley?

Certainly the lack of diversity, and that we need to honor and celebrate our different cultures. Related to that might be that our lives (song lyrics from Nancy Griffith here) “run in circles so small, we think we’ve seen it all.” COVID has made it especially difficult to have a broader outreach and perspective on our world, since we’re living in bubbles these days.

If you had an unlimited budget, what’s one piece of public art you would create locally?

Shoot! Just one? With the help of our terrific Public Arts Council: A kinetic sculpture! Theo Jansen is an amazing Dutch sculptor who has created “Strandbeests,” kinetic structures that are usually moving on a beach (we could just close Clairemont Avenue regularly, and take these “beests” for a run).

If COVID-19 suddenly vanished, where is the first local place you would go?

I would invite all of our local and national politicians to join me in visiting our public schools for one day. Witnessing the amazing talent, patience, commitment, and heroic work of our teachers and support staff would convince them to boost emotional and financial support for our frontliners working with our most precious resource, our children. And, obviously COVID has complicated their work immensely.

What is your favorite piece of local trivia?

Probably the fact that all planes coming into the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport from the south or east contact Eau Claire airport towers, as an “outer marker” for flights.

Death bed, one meal from a local restaurant, what would it be?

Lamb from Bijou Bistro, Short ribs from Mona’s, a burger from Court’n House, or – full disclosure – I have a weakness for hot dogs.

What book, TV show, or movie would you recommend to the members of the City Council?

City Art: New York’s Percent for Art Program. Some of our most vital and thriving cities have percent for art programs, meaning that any new development project in a city receiving public assistance requires a 1% investment of the assessed value of the project into public art. Examples include Green Bay, Madison, and (outside Wisconsin) Atlanta, Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Jose, and Tampa.

If you could rename Eau Claire with a different French name, what would it be?

“Ville D’art,” meaning a city of art!

COVID has made it especially difficult to have a broader outreach and perspective on our world, since we’re living in bubbles these days.