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Panelists explore role of the arts in helping rural communities thrive

From offbeat art installations on Wisconsin farmland to more traditional events like craft exhibits at agricultural festivals, there has long been a powerful connection between the arts and rural life in Wisconsin. Today with a new focus on “creative placemaking,” government agencies, artists, nonprofit organizations and citizens are furthering the conversation about how to build thriving rural places through cultural activity. The arts help build local pride and identity—for both residents and visitors—and generate economic activity.

A free Academy Evening talk co-presented by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters and the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation will explore these issues and more. Creating Community and Revitalizing Rural Life through the Arts will take place on Tuesday, October 9, from 7–8:30 pm in the lecture hall of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, 227 State St., Madison.

The evening’s panelists are Donna Neuwirth and Jay Salinas, co-founders of the Wormfarm Institute in Reedsburg, WI, and Mitch Menchaca of American for the Arts in Washington, DC. Founded in 2000, the nonprofit Wormfarm Institute explores links between urban and rural communities within and beyond the food chain. Its efforts include Fermentation Fest and the Farm/Art Dtour, which will take place Oct. 12–21 this year in Sauk County; the Woolen Mill Gallery in downtown Reedsburg; and an artist residency program in which artists participate in farm labor as part of their experience. In 2010, Wormfarm Institute received the Wisconsin Governor’s Award in Support of the Arts. Two years earlier, it received the Award of Excellence from the Robert E. Gard Wisconsin Idea Foundation. Artplace and the National Endowment for the Arts' “Our Town” program have helped support Wormfarm Institute through grants. Mitch Menchaca is director of local arts advancement at Americans for the Arts. He leads a team that cultivates local arts development in communities across the United States. Menchaca also serves on the board of directors of the Gard Foundation.

For this event, the Wisconsin Academy has partnered with the Gard Foundation, which helps people and their communities discover the vital role the arts play in their day-to-day lives. The organization continues the legacy of the late Robert E. Gard (1910–1992), a UW–Madison professor and founder/director of Wisconsin Idea Theater. Gard authored more than forty books and wrote extensively on theater, Wisconsin history and folklore.

The panel discussion will be preceded by a reception with music and light refreshments from 6–7:00 pm; the reception is also free and open to the public. At the reception, veteran arts administrator and author Doug Borwick will be present to sign copies of his new book, Building Communities, Not Audiences: The Future of the Arts in the United States, which will be available for purchase.