What high school kids want

September 4, 2013
Students in the Overture Center during High School Friday 2012. Photo by Jessica Becker

Students in the Overture Center during High School Friday 2012. Photo by Jessica Becker

“The first reason why I chose to go on this field trip was to miss school. When I got there, I discovered it was actually super interesting.” So said a 16 year-old high school student in reflecting on her day at High School Friday during the Wisconsin Book Festival.

This year is the third year the Wisconsin Humanities Council, where I work, is sponsoring a free day of programs for high school students at the Wisconsin Book Festival. One hundred and fifty kids will come to downtown Madison on Friday, October 18 for this incredible opportunity to engage in the civic and cultural life of our city. Authors, journalists, poets, multi-media artists, and spoken word artists are bringing their stories and real-world experiences together for a groovy day of exchange, exposure, and memory-making.

The day provides an eclectic mix of voices, perspectives, and ideas that will be thought-provoking and inspiring. I can promise that some of the things said, heard, and seen, will stick in some of those kids’ heads and push them in new, and positive, directions. Humanities experiences make an impact, though the effect tends to ripple and roll and reach into unplanned nooks and crannies of the mind.

We all know that what sticks in one person’s head is not what is going to stick in another person’s head.  Impact is uneven and unpredictable. Some moments, some books, some teachers, some students, and some experiences end up having more impact than others. And that is perhaps the one TRUTH about education.

“The Romans didn’t let people study the humanities, not the people they had conquered. You know that, right?” my husband asked me the other night, out of the blue.

He is one of the most well-rounded, well-read analytical chemists you’d care to meet.  Amazingly, he still remembers so much of what he learned in high school.

He and I proceeded to talk about how the study of philosophy, ethics, and history would be kept from those they wanted to keep subservient for obvious reasons. An educated citizen is a more powerful one, more inclined toward big ideas, more likely to sway opinions, more prepared for leadership roles.

I married a chemist though I somehow got through high school without taking a chemistry class (He is responsible for pouring things in our house!).  I opted instead for languages, art classes, and uncommon experiences. I don’t really remember (m)any of the facts I surely must have encountered along the way, but I grew up to be a true humanist. The humanities in the real world means being intrigued by difference, looking for ways to connect ideas, being curious to hear other perspectives, and staying wary of any fact out of context.

I value those skills and wish them for teens and everyone.

As we crafted the schedule for the annual High School Friday, we were well aware of the Standards that  high school teachers must use to shape their lesson plans. Specifically, the Social and Emotional Learning Standards for grades 9-12:

Respect Others: Students will identify positive ways to express understanding of differing perspectives and use conversational skills to determine the perspectives of others.

Civic Responsibility: Students will evaluate the impact of their involvement as agents of positive change and analyze their responsibilities as positive agents of change in a democratic society.

Yes, bring on the humanities. And the Wisconsin Book Festival! October 17-20, four full days of conversation, inspiration, and opportunity to participate in civil society!

The schedule for High School Friday includes hip-hop and spoken word performers from the UW-Madison First Wave program, female sportscaster and author Jessie Garcia, the dynamic trio of artists/librarians/authors from “The Library as Incubator” project, blog, and book, and multi-media experts from the Madison Public Library media lab. Every participant will go home with a library card and knowledge about how to make the public library a source of continued inspiration, access, and power.

Please contact me by October 1, 2013 if you know some high school students from the Madison area who would like to attend!

by Jessica Becker
Director of Public Programs, Wisconsin Humanities Council


Edna Taylor Conservation Park: Gems of Madison

March 27, 2012
Edna Taylor Conservation Park

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Edna Taylor was a writer, teacher and dairy farmer who sold 37 of her 98 acres to Madison to help create the 56-acre conservancy park which bears her name. Taylor, who had the strongly admirable environmental foresight to protect the beautiful wetland and forest, died before the completion of the park. The city bought the land in 1972, four months after her death.

Popular for local school field trips and with birdwatchers, the cattail-rich park is neatly and inconspicuously situated in the midst of frenetic pockets of residential housing and commercial development. Rife with frogs and birds, the hidden gem teems with wildflowers, oak stands, cottonwoods, lily-pads and blue-flag iris. Ponds here play host to everything from egrets and great blue herons to woodpeckers.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park

Tucked off Monona Drive and Femrite Drive, Edna Taylor Conservation Park offers three out-and-back hiking loops, a spring, marsh habitat, a glacial drumlin, oak stands, nature viewing platforms, and a Native American effigy mound. The area incorporates a little more than 3 miles of trails; the scenery is comprised of wetlands, willows, oak forest, ponds, savanna, and a handsome assortment of wildflowers. At the corner of the parking lot a large memorial stone dedicated to Edna Taylor denotes the trail’s beginnings.

The trail starts in between high grass and pretty marshland, and is easy to follow and well-maintained throughout. Birders will have exciting field days watching Canadian geese, cranes, herons, and mallards. Redwing and tricolor birds are abundant in the marshy ponds, and the surrounding shrubbery is especially comely in the fall. Raspberries abound in the fields in July. Observation platforms at the edge of the ponds are great for spotting water fowl. It’s common in the springtime to spy tiny Canada geese chicks and tadpoles.On the east side of the park are six linear Indian effigy mounds and one panther-shaped mound, all listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park abuts the equally enjoyable Aldo Leopold Park; wedged in the thickness of evergreens, a sign denotes the change of parks. Trail traffic is generally pretty light, and the park is open 4 a.m. to 1 hour before sunset. Restrooms and water are available at the park office during those hours.

Edna Taylor Conservation Park Directions

From the Beltline Highway (US 12/18), drive north on Monona Drive 0.6 miles and hook a right on Femrite Drive. The parking lot for Edna Taylor Conservancy Park is on the left about 0.4 miles from Monona Drive. To the right of the parking is the easily identifiable trailhead. The entry to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center is also on the left side, approximately 1,000 feet from Monona Drive.

Brian D’Ambrosio’s Madison for Dads: 101 Adventures now available for $4.99 as Ebook:
Madison-For-Dads-101-Dad-Related-Adventures

Wisconsin’s Literary Landmarks: From “Our Town” to “Citizen Kane”

March 6, 2012

Wisconsin’s Literary Landmarks

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Joseph Webster House, Elkhorn, WI

As hard as it may seem at times to give reasons for, there is more to learn about and excite the sentiment in the Badger State above and beyond milk and cheese (regardless of how deliciously impressive) and the Green Bay Packers (notwithstanding stunning Super Bowl success). Wisconsin has produced many influential authors and dramatists and served as the source for many great fictional bodies of work. In this article you’ll take a winding journey, from Pepin to Kenosha, on the path to discover Wisconsin’s unique ancestry of literary landmarks, storybook attractions, and scholarly sites, and how the unstoppable spirit of a few of its residents came to heavily influence the tenor of mythical Americana.

Sterling North Boyhood Home, Edgerton

In Edgerton, Wisconsin, tourists with the most bookish of bents will enjoy  visiting the landmark boyhood home and museum of Sterling North (1906-1974), world-famous author of Rascal, So Dear to my Heart, The Wolfling, and 28 other works.  In 1963 North completed the book Rascal: A Memoir of a Better Era. Set in 1917 when he was 11-years-old, the best-selling book chronicles a boy’s fondness for and friendship with a pet raccoon in the fictitious “Brailsford Junction.” The home, which is open from April 5 through December 20, Sunday afternoons 1:00 to 4:30 p.m., may be toured by appointment. Refurbished to its 1917 setting, furnished with period antiques, the museum showcases North’s desk, typewriter, photos, books and many family artifacts and memorabilia.

Lorine Niedecker, Fort Atkinson Poet

Lorine Niedecker (1903-1970) was a poet of eminent endowment whose life and work were long cloaked in anonymity. The introverted daughter of a carp fisherman, she spent most of her life on a flood-riven plain in southern Wisconsin. She was born and died on a marshy spit of land known as Blackhawk Island near Fort Atkinson. The Friends of Lorine Niedecker sponsors a monthly poetry reading in Fort Atkinson, which is rich with Niedecker-related sites, including W7309 Blackhawk Island Road, the location of Niedecker’s writer’s cottage and modest home. Both of which are private property, but access is allowed through an appointment with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker. Other notable markers include: Union Cemetery, County Road J north of Hwy 106, Cemetery Road, the burial place of Lorine Niedecker and her parents Henry and Daisy; 506 Riverside Drive, the home where Lorine stayed during the school year 1917-1918 with family friends; 1000 Riverside Drive , the home where the Niedeckers lived from 1910-1916; 209 Merchants Avenue, the Dwight Foster Library, home to Lorine’s personal library archive; 401 Whitewater Avenue, the Hoard Historical Museum, which operates a room with myriad artifacts related to the poet’s life.

Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm, North of Baraboo

Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac will be read and revered ad infinitum. This classic, featuring philosophical essays and natural observations established Leopold (1887-1948) as America’s preeminent environmental thinker. Published in 1949, shortly after Leopold’s death, A Sand County Almanac is a masterpiece of nature writing, widely referenced as one of the most seminal nature books ever penned. Writing from the vantage of his retreat shack along the shore of the Wisconsin River, Leopold mixed conservation and wildlife essays, polemics, and memoirs, in what has become a catalyst for the country – and world’s – evolving ecological awareness. “Outdoor prose writing at is best……A trenchant book, full of beauty and vigor and bite…All through it is (Leopold’s) deep love for a healthy land.” So raved the New York Times. The Aldo Leopold Shack and Farm is located near Baraboo, Wisconsin. Purchased by Leopold in the early 1930s, he converted a chicken coop, which he dubbed ‘the Shack’, for his family to spend weekends. Tours of the Shack are offered Saturdays, from Memorial Day through the end of October. Guided tours originating at the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center are the only way to access and view the inside of the Leopold Shack.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Birthplace, Pepin 

It appears that every state wants to claim a piece of author Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957). Anyone who watched the Little House on the Prairie TV series knows that Walnut Grove is in Minnesota and there’s a bust of Laura on display in Missouri where she settled in her later years. Laura also lived in Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Florida, New York and South Dakota. Near the tiny village of Pepin, Wisconsin, Wilder’s birthplace is commemorated. The Ingalls family lived in a small cottage when Laura was born, in 1867. You’ll find a replica of her log cabin at the Little House Wayside and an historical marker in Pepin Park. Plan on visiting in mid-September to participate in Laura Ingalls Wilder Days.

Zona Gale Home, Portage 

Zona Gale Home, Portage, WI

Novelist and playwright Zona Gale (1874-1938) achieved nationwide popularity as a writer and won the first ever Pulitzer Prize awarded to a female for Drama. Once she gained a niche in the literary world, she returned to her place of origin – Portage, Wisconsin – where she lived and worked the rest of her life. Zona Gale was born in Portage on August 26, 1874, and, barring a brief time in Minnesota, lived there until she entered the University of Wisconsin. At the time of her birth, her father was a Milwaukee Road railroad engineer, working at the time out of Minneapolis. Zona’s mother chose to be prepared for the birth of their first and only child at the Portage home of her mother. Gale first garnered attention for her short stories set in the fictional town of Friendship Village. Published in 1908, Friendship Village proved very well-liked and she went on to write a similar series of stories. Miss Lulu Bett shared best seller honors in 1920 with Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street, and the adaptation of the novel brought her the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, in 1921.

Hamlin Garland Homestead, West Salem 

Hamlin Garland was born in a West Salem log cabin on September 14, 1860. After spending his teenage years in rural Iowa, Garland (1860-1940) became a teacher in the Boston School of Oratory. Between the years of 1885 and 1889 he taught private classes in both English and American literature. Some time was also spent lecturing on land reform in and around Boston, where he made the acquaintance of Oliver Wendell Holmes, George Bernard Show, William Dean Howells, Edwin Booth and other worthies. It was in 1917 that A Son of the Middle Border was published. The next year, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For the novel A Daughter of the Middle Border he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for best biography of 1921. In 1893, Hamlin Garland bought his parents their first home, called the Hays house, in West Salem, Wisconsin. The homestead, open weekends May through October, came to be known as “Maple Shade.”

Joseph Webster House, Elkhorn 

At 9 East Rockwell Street in the small town of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, stands the neat, modest, white Greek Revival style house where composer Joseph Philbrick Webster (1819-1875) lived. He lived here from 1857 until his death in 1875, at the age of 56. Most of Webster’s more than 1,000 songs were penned during this period. Some of his classics are still well-known today. “Lorena” was heard and immortalized in the classic movie Gone With the Wind. Webster’s compositions were eclectic, including music for ballads, religious hymns, nationalistic drama, and a cantata – a vocal composition intended for musical accompaniment and a choir. The house, which served as a stopping point and sanctuary as part of the Underground Railroad, is open year-round to the public.

Thornton Wilder Birthplace, Madison 

Thornton Niven Wilder (1897-1975) was born in Madison, Wisconsin (at that time a town of eighteen thousand inhabitants) at 140 Langdon Street on April 17, 1897, the son of Amos Parker Wilder, a Wisconsin State Journal editor, and Isabella Niven Wilder. His twin brother died at birth, and Wilder grew up with an older brother and three younger sisters. He took to writing as a youngster, eventually earning his undergraduate degree at Yale, and graduate degree at Princeton. By the time he died on December 7, 1975, at his home in Hamden, Connecticut, Wilder garnered international fame as a playwright and novelist. To this day, his works are translated, performed and prized by audiences worldwide. Wilder’s most famous work, Our Town, explores the lives of people living in the quintessentially American small town of Grover’s Corners, New Hampshire. It was first produced in 1938 and received the Pulitzer Prize for Literature. Madison was the first of three “our towns” in Wilder’s boyhood (he lived here until he was eight), and it is indicative of Wilder’s interests that each was academic – Madison, Berkeley, New Haven. Though primarily associated with Our Town, Wilder also earned a Pulitzer Prize in 1927 for the novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey. A small plaque commemorates the birth site.

John Muir Park and Boyhood Home

Father of our national park system, farmer, inventor, sheepherder, explorer, writer, founder and first president of the Sierra Club, and conservationist John Muir (1838-1914) was perhaps America’s most rugged and prominent naturalist. Raised near a little lake outside Portage, Wisconsin, Muir’s family immigrated to the United States from Scotland in 1849. They build a home (long since eroded) and started a farm called Fountain Lake Farm; Muir’s formative years in the Badger State instilled a love of nature and land. Muir published six volumes of writings, all describing discoveries of natural environs. Additional books and compilations were published after his death in 1914. Perhaps what is most important about his writings was not their number, but their sagacious content, which continues to hold an influential effect on American ideas and the policies that help to nurture and preserve nature’s elegant habitats. The park is open year-round.

Orson Welles Birthplace, Kenosha

The son of a gifted concert pianist and wealthy inventor, Kenosha’s Orson Welles (1915-1985) proved a precocious child, excelling in music, art, and even magic. By age 16, Welles had set out to make his mark in the dramatic arts. Within three years, he’d entered stage, film, and radio, and by 1941, he’d co-written, directed and starred in Citizen Kane, considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. Born George Orson Welles to Richard Head Welles and Beatrice Ives Welles, May 15, 1915, Welles once said: “I never blamed my folks for Kenosha. Kenosha has always blamed my folks for me.” Built in the 1880s, Welles’ birthplace is a private residence, the front of which holds a bronze plaque commemorating the home town mastermind.

August Derleth, Walden West Festival 

August Derleth (1909-1971) was a prolific writer, publisher, and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first publisher of the horror writings of H.P. Lovecraft, he wrote in several genres, including biography, detective fiction, science fiction, poetry, and historical fiction. Sauk City’s August Derleth Society sponsors a yearly event the second weekend in October, The Walden West Festival. The festival includes satires, musical performances, speakers, a drive to Derleth-relevant sites, and an evening poetry gathering at the writer’s grave. Permanent exhibits linked to Derleth are located at Leystra’s Restaurant and the Cedarberry Inn in Sauk City, the Sauk City Library, and at the Sauk County Historical Society, in Baraboo.

–Brian D’Ambrosio

 

Share


Lorine Niedecker’s Cabin in Fort Atkinson, Wisc. – A Literary Landmark

January 27, 2012

By Brian D’Ambrosio

Photo of Lorine Niedecker's Cabin in Fort Atkinson, Wisc. - A Literary Landmark, By Brian D'Ambrosio

Lorine Niedecker was a poet’s poet. English poet Basil Bunting considered her to be one of the finest poets of the 20th Century, and William Carlos Williams called her the Emily Dickinson of her time. Though internationally noted, in Wisconsin she remains a stranger – so much so that a 2003 biography of Niedecker by John Lehman was titled America’s Greatest Unknown Poet. Lorine Niedecker is referred to as a poet of place because her imagery was so rooted to her life on Blackhawk Island. She celebrated the visions and sounds of Blackhawk Island, a stumpy, marshy peninsula along which the Rock River pours before emptying into Lake Koshkonong. As an objectivist poet, the simplicity of her words still intuitively touches our own experiences.

The daughter of a Wisconsin carp fisherman, Niedecker was greatly influenced by her life on Blackhawk Island. She was born in May 12, 1903, on a spit of land near Fort Atkinson. She lived much of her life beside a flooding river in a Spartan cottage without electricity or running water. An only child, her words weave the textures of her culture, family and neighbors.

The seminal point in her poetic development came in 1931 when she read Louis Zukofsky’s “The Objectivist” issue of Poetry magazine. By 1940 Niedecker viewed herself exclusively as a poet. Reclusive and shy, her primary motivation was to have her poetry shared and read and her reputation as a poet locked. Niedecker’s poetry reflects her vision of the world, water, fish, fowl and flood. She spent her childhood outdoors watching blackbirds, willows, maples, boats, fishermen and spring floods engulfing her little house. In a letter to a friend in 1967, Niedecker confirmed the pure inspiration she found in her surroundings on Blackhawk Island: “Early in life I looked back of our buildings to the lake and said, “I am what I am because of all this – I am what is around me – these woods have made me….”

View of Spit From Lorine Niedecker's Cabin

She lived first in the log-sided house and later the house alongside the waterway from 1947-1970. Today, literary followers from around the world make their way to Blackhawk Island to view the small one-and-one-half-room cottage where Niedecker lived and wrote. The Lorine Niedecker homes are privately owned and not open to the public.

The Friends of Lorine Niedecker sponsors a monthly poetry reading in Fort Atkinson, which is rich with Niedecker-related sites, including W7309 Blackhawk Island Road, the location of Niedecker’s writer’s cottage and modest home. Both of which are private property, but access is allowed through an appointment with the Friends of Lorine Niedecker. Other notable markers include: Union Cemetery, County Road J north of Hwy 106, Cemetery Road, the burial place of Lorine Niedecker and her parents Henry and Daisy; 506 Riverside Drive, the home where Lorine stayed during the school year 1917-1918 with family friends; 1000 Riverside Drive , the home where the Niedeckers lived from 1910-1916; 209 Merchants Avenue, the Dwight Foster Library, home to Lorine’s personal library archive; 401 Whitewater Avenue, the Hoard Historical Museum, which operates a room with myriad artifacts related to the poet’s life.

“Our job is to promote and identify the work of this great poet,” said Ann Engelman, president of Friends of Lorine Niedecker. “Her fellow poets were so promotional of her, from William Carlos Williams to Allen Ginsberg. Her fellow poets really praised her.”

Few people were aware of Niedecker’s poetry, and she died virtually unknown outside of contemporary circles. Her poetic reputation has enhanced so widely that in 2011, Engelman can claim that no anthology of 20th Century American poetry is whole without some of Lorine Niedecker’s work.

Lorine Niedecker

“Her esteem as a major American poet grows each year,” said Engelman. “In Wisconsin, she is still very much unknown. Our goal as a society is to change that.”

Sources:
Lorine Niedecker: A Life, UW Press
American Poetry Archival Project, University of Nebraska


Wisconsin School of the Air Lives On

December 30, 2011

To fulfill a requirement for a course on distance learning, doctoral student Megan Murtaugh decided to create a web lesson about the Wisconsin School of the Air.  Designed for use in primary and secondary classrooms, this radio-based education series grew out of the Wisconsin Idea, a philosophy maintaining that all Wisconsin residents should have access to the university’s services. Or as the motto goes, “The boundaries of the university are the boundaries of the state.”

Fannie Steve hosted an award-winning WSA program for young children. Photo: Wisconsin Public Radio.

WHA broadcast Wisconsin School of the Air in various forms for forty years, between 1931 and 1971. Megan got in touch with me regarding vintage WSA audio she found on Portal Wisconsin. Along with these audio files, the lesson she created includes an audio overview of the WSA; a blog post composed by a former student in a WSA classroom; images; an assessment and more.

Until I listened to Megan’s web lesson, I hadn’t really thought of Wisconsin Public Radio as a pioneer in distance learning. I usually associate that term with big schools offering entire degree programs online. But of course, distance learning encompasses a sweeping range of experiences–from full-on virtual campuses like the University of Phoenix, to the individual courses or portions of courses that you can find on PortalWisconsin.org, to the training webinars I sometimes view from my desktop.

In a way, Wisconsin School of the Air lives on in Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television–both based at the University of Wisconsin-Extension. University of the Air, a descendant of the WSA, still airs Sunday afternoons on WPR. Through programs like University of the Air, University Place (WPT’s virtual lecture hall), and many, many others,  we have access the state’s best thinkers–poets, politicians, scientists and scholars.

***

By the way, I was curious how Megan Murtaugh, a Florida graduate student, came to select the Wisconsin School of the Air as a project focus. She told me she came across the story of the WSA while researching for another class. She says she was also motivated by her husband Jimmy: “He lived and went to school in Wisconsin for a good portion of his academic career. I thought it would be fun to investigate some of Wisconsin’s history and then see if he knew about it. It turned out this project was an educational experience not only for me but for my entire family, my friends and my peers as well.”

How’s that for above and beyond the Wisconsin Idea?

Link to Megan Murtaugh’s Wisconsin School of the Air web lesson.

–Tammy Kempfert


Battery charger

September 22, 2011

The Rural Arts and Culture Summit was one of those events that made you want to get back home and get to work.  It’s been a few months since we attended, and I am still fired up.  There was something or somebody to learn from every moment we were there.

We attended as part of an organization that operates an historic site that also functions as a regional arts learning center.  The greatest benefit for us was that the gathering brought together all kinds of people involved and interested in the arts: musicians, visual artists, people who run arts organizations, theater folks, funders, community developers.

Anne Katz of Arts Wisconsin with other conference attendees

Each day was catalyzed by keynote speakers, including Wisconsin’s own Anne Katz, who spoke about the importance of measuring the specific contributions of artists, craftspeople and arts industry workers to an area’s economy.  Like farmers, many artists are self-employed and remain a shadow in the world of economic and employment data.  (Arts Wisconsin has great resources to help – check out their Arts Activist Toolkit.)

Anne was preceded by Bill Cleveland, writer, author, musician and director of the Study of Art and Community, who kicked off the conference’s opening day with a message of arts partnerships and community alliances.  Donna Walker-Kuene, a nationally known expert on audience development and veteran of over 15 Broadway productions, provided a closing day address on building access to the arts.

And the workshops were as varied as the conference participants.  I heard from a panel of state arts funders (North Dakota and Minnesota get it!) while my wife made a Ceramic Taco Fish.  I attended great presentations about feeding the Creative Economy in rural areas and developing regional strategies based on an area’s unique assets.  There were offerings about volunteer management and audience development, printmaking and Haiku, and even film screening. There was time to talk and plenty of time to listen.  I learned more about rural outreach in a half hour conversation with the director of a theater company located in an isolated part of Minnesota than I have over the last 10 years.

And copious thanks to organizers and suppliers for superbly prepared local food.

Great local food

The Summit was hosted and planned by A Center for the Arts and numerous partnering organizations and held at the Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls.  We were surprised by the place, frankly, as it is a stunning facility.  The building contains a permanent art collection started in 1960.  It now includes over 400 items which are seen everywhere in the college.  The art is beautiful and diverse – sculpture, paintings, weaving, woodwork, drawings, ceramics and wall carvings – and displayed and conserved by a curator who warmed our hearts with his passion.  Now that’s a proper environment for learning.

Fergus Falls was a treat.  It has what we think of as a “real” downtown.  There are scores of different stores and shops, and it did not come off as a tourist town, lively with locals and visitors alike. With a little exploration we discovered an all-but-abandoned little park on the east edge of town, aptly named Broken Down Dam Natural Area.  The only indication we were in the right place was a small sign and place for one vehicle to park at the dead end.  After a walk through a meadow and down a hillside we found an old dam, displaced by the power of the river it was built to contain.  It was a beautiful spot – the river rapids rushing over once grand stone ruins; isolated but within city boundaries; loud but still quiet.

The historic Fergus Theater, home to A Center for the Arts

The historic Fergus Theater is a gem from yesteryear with an incredible list of upcoming performances.  The city’s restaurants are outstanding.  And there are lots of ponds and lakes. Fergus Falls is so natural that cranes crowded  the trees in the park at dusk and made all kinds of fuss until they finally settled down for the night.

Some in-town exploring uncovered a great little Salvation Army.  That and the Goodwill Store gave us our Antiques Roadshow moment for the month.  For $40 at the Salvation Army we snagged a great 1936 German-made student guitar (in the original case – the original slides and picks were still there, too).  And at Goodwill we found five wonderful framed prints, an intact set from the 1860s, which we got for $3.99 each and saw for around $1,500 on the Internet.

It was a good place for this Summit.  These folks in Minnesota clearly understand that the arts are integral to keeping and attracting residents to their rural areas.  And they understand the business of arts and their importance to the economics of place as well as aesthetic framework of community.

Conferences are a little more difficult to attend in tough financial times and it is easy to forget how necessary getting together can be.  We live in the country and don’t get to network like we should.  The Summit was a reminder of the necessity of like-minded people to gather, speak, listen and learn and especially to strategize collectively when the influence of all of us is needed.

The Rural Arts and Culture Summit was not only excellent, it was unique.   Professional development is seldom so much fun.  As we get closer to the next event I will probably start to get tired and feel jaded about my arts volunteerism again, and need to charge the batteries.  And I’m also hoping the resale shops have more cool stuff when we come back.

What types of gatherings fire you up?

Rick Rolfsmeyer, Hollandale, WI  (Pop. 283)

 

Share


People to meet

March 18, 2011

In some circles, Aldo Leopold is famous. In others, not so much. He was born toward the end of the 19th century and his most well-known book, “A Sand County Almanac,” wasn’t published until 1949, a year after his death. Sixty years later and the book is gaining in popularity, translated and published all over the world. Wisconsinites proudly claims him as one of our own and there are markers attesting to the success and genius of his work all over the state. But don’t feel bad if you are one of the many out there who is not yet familiar with him. The new film , “Greenfire: Aldo Leopold and A Land Ethic for Our Time”, is a wonderful introduction.

The documentary premiered on March 1 in Baraboo, near where Leopold and his family owned and restored a piece of land and near the home of the Aldo Leopold Foundation headquarters. In the film, a rancher and conservationist in New Mexico named Sid Goodloe says about his experience reading Leopold, “Boy, if I’d just read this thirty years ago I could have saved a lot of time and effort because he already knew all the things I was learning.”

It’s not easy to sum up all that Leopold is, but I agree with Goodloe in thinking that we can count ourselves lucky if we’ve had the chance to get  to know some of his ideas before getting too far along in life. For those who are already chummy with the guy, this film is a wonderful celebration of his legacy in land stewardship, soil conservation, forestry, and ethics. I found it very inspiring. Find a screening, or better yet, get a copy of the DVD and host one yourself. You’re friends will appreciate the introduction.

Another film that promises to both inspire and introduce us to important fellow Wisconsinites premiers in Madison on April 19. Produced by the Midwest Environmental Advocates, “Crossing the Line” illustrates a people’s history of legal battles that have been fought to protect all of our rights to clean air, land and water.  I understand very little about American law but I know it takes guts and tenacity to stand up to the powerful forces that are used to getting their way, even when that way hurts lots of us regular people. The film presents five stories about people who have managed to win, despite the odds. I’m sure I have a lot to gain from getting to hear these voices. Thanks to the good folks at MEA for taking on these cases, and then for sharing some much needed good news. It’s never a bad moment to be inspired.

By Jessica Becker, Director of Public Programs. Both films received grants from the Wisconsin Humanities Council.