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Chanda Elliott, Northwest Passage, Ltd, Webster, chats with MaryAnn Lippert, director, Northern Region, Wisconsin Department of Administration, at the Rural Arts Forum held June 29 in Amery.

“Your stories are so inspiring.” commented MaryAnn Lippert after listening to reports about arts activity from eight northwest Wisconsin communities. Lippert is the director for the northern region of the Wisconsin Department of Administration. She was one of three special guests at the 2018 Rural Arts Forum held June 29 at the Northern Lakes Center for the Arts in Amery,

Attendees representing Hammond, St. Croix Falls, Glenwood City, Rhinelander, Hudson, Amery, Spooner and Webster had a chance to network, present their current projects, share ideas, and hear the latest news about Wisconsin’s creative economy from Madison-based George Tzgrous, director, Wisconsin Arts Board, and Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin.

Chanda Elliott, Northwest Passage, Ltd.,Webster, presented information about the In a New Light Gallery expansion. “We’re really excited about the opportunity to build a destination ‘creativity center’” in Burnett County,” she said.

She continued, “The enhanced facility will house artists’ studios, a classroom, performance space and a larger gallery where we’ll showcase local and regional artists’ works.” She likened the finished facility to a “blank canvas” that will open doors of creativity to Burnett County residents of all ages, especially to the at-risk youth served by the Passage.

Northwest Passage is also the new home for the Burnett Area Arts Group, reported BAAG member Harriet Rice, also from Webster. She described the collaboration and partnership between the two organizations. “BAAG is looking forward to a place where they will hold classes, workshops and special exhibitions,” said Rice. In March, BAAG staged a highly successful Student Art Show and looks forward to its annual November Holiday Art show.

Lippert, who lives in a rural community of 800, pointed out that Wisconsin is known as the “Maker State” - a hub of manufacturing. “The arts are part of the maker economy,” she said. “The arts and the creative economy are integral to our rural communities. They are vital to creating vibrant places that attract people, especially young people, to stay or come back to their towns and villages.”

Tzougros pointed out that it was through Lippert’s efforts that arts and creative economy were included as part of the 2017 Governor’s Northern Economic and Community Development Summit program with a breakout session devoted to a discussion of how the arts impact local economies.

Forum participants received copies of 21st Century Wisconsin, a recent 43-page Arts Wisconsin report published in partnership with the League of Wisconsin Municipalities. The colorful book features snapshots from around the state showcasing creative economy successes.

“Wisconsin communities looking to thrive in the 21st century are focused on investing in the arts and culture to generate jobs, revenue, civic engagement and quality of life,” writes Katz in the report’s introduction. Copies of the report will be distributed to legislators, decision-makers, community leaders and candidates.

Katz stressed the importance of connecting with candidates in the upcoming elections to find out where they stand on including the arts and creativity in their visions. “Creativity is the engine that drives vision,” she said.

One of the visions for Wisconsin is the passage of “Wisconsin Creates,” a statewide program designed to invest dollars in Wisconsin’s creative economy. The legislative process continues to move forward, said Katz.

“Last October, SB284 passed the Senate Committee on Small Business, Agriculture, and Tourism and AB393 passed the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy, both with unanimous votes,” she said. Arts Wisconsin monitors the bill’s progress in the budget cycle and sends out “Call to Action” emails when it’s time for constituents to ask their legislators to support the bill when it comes up for a vote.

The Wisconsin Arts Board, headed up by Tzgrous, is the state agency that nurtures creativity, cultivates expression, promotes the arts, supports the arts in education and commerce and serves as a resource for the public. He spoke to the group about several subjects including the WAB strategic plan with the four “C’s” that are its foundation: Creativity, Commerce, Culture and Community.

He noted that Americans for the Arts, a Washington, D.C.- based advocacy and lobbying organization, created a rural arts section at this year’s annual conference. Their 2019 conference will be held June 14-16 in the Twin Cities, providing a unique opportunity to participate.

All three speakers urged the group to share their successes with local leaders and their state and congressional legislators: invite them to events, send them newspaper clippings and marketing materials. The 21st century, they said, is all about creativity in human endeavor.