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Animating Public Art

new nonprofit aims to bring more art to public places

Tom Giffey, photos by Shane Newman

STREET ART. Brianna Capra and Brent Gonyea, center, were among the artists who displayed works in downtown Eau Claire during the Prex Claire festivities.
STREET ART. Brianna Capra and Brent Gonyea, center, were among the artists who displayed works in downtown Eau Claire during the Prex Claire festivities.

A new nonprofit organization has been created to enhance public art in Eau Claire by connecting local artists with public places to showcase their work. The Eau Claire Public Arts Council launched in mid-June with the announcement of its board of directors and a demonstration of public art as part of the Prex Claires festivities downtown, which preceded the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival.

“Our goal is to build on the emerging arts economy to help create a unique sense of place for the Eau Claire community,” Greg Johnson, president of the council’s board of directors, said at a launch announcement June 13.

“Our mission is to animate our community to public art and to enhance the quality of life here in Eau Claire,” added Johnson, a metalworker and owner of Artisan Forge Studios in Eau Claire. “We aim to do so by presenting both permanent and temporary exhibitions and supporting them with educational programs and community events.”

“Our goal is to build on the emerging arts economy to help create a unique sense of place for the Eau Claire community.” – Greg Johnson, Eau Claire Public Arts Council

Eau Claire Public Arts grew out of a request from the City of Eau Claire to the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Eau Claire, a program that brings together a cross-section of professionals for leadership building and community enhancement. A nine-member Leadership Eau Claire committee took on the formation of the ECPA as a service project, and put in more than 500 volunteer hours conducting research, holding focus groups, recruiting board members, and creating mission and vision statements and goals, Johnson explained.

Eau Claire City Manager Dale Peters said the need for a public art council became clear after last year’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, when a group of locals – including City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle – mobilized to find a home for “Baroque,” a wire sculpture by Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi that was meant to be a temporary installation on the festival grounds. Some quick, creative thinking helped save the sculpture – which has now found a semi-permanent home on a plot of parkland near First Avenue – but it became clear that having a public art council would help with similar situations in the future.

Enhancing public art in Eau Claire can be an economic driver, said Peters, because it enhances elements such as public services and safety that municipalities traditionally provide.

“Increasingly, citizens want something more,” Peters said. “They want a community that’s connected. They want a community that is meaningful and fun.” Public art, he added, can help provide these things.

And, in terms of the council, “public art” won’t be limited to permanent installations such as sculptures and murals. As evidenced by the sampling provided during Prex Claires, it can include more ephemeral forms of expression like performance art and chalk art.

Johnson said the council has a number of projects in the works, but none that can be announced just yet. “I can assure you it’s going to be an unending list of opportunities,” he said.

In the meantime, the council is looking for ideas, volunteers, and donations. Currently, donors can make gifts via a pass-through fund at the Eau Claire Community Foundation. The council hopes to become an independent nonprofit within 18 months, said Allison Shepard, a board member

To find out more about the Eau Claire Public Art Council, to get involved, or to make a donation, visit ecpublicart.org or find it on Facebook.