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April 24, 2007

Rural lives, rural arts

Jennifer A. Smith

Something I've been thinking a lot about lately is the relevance of arts programming to its community at large. One local organization (in Madison, Wis.) that I think does a fantastic job of linking its programming to the outside world is the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, which runs a contemporary art gallery, a public lecture series, a quarterly magazine, scholarly conferences and more. Although the academic-sounding name makes many people think it's a division of the University of Wisconsin, it's actually an independent nonprofit that's been around since 1870 (!).


The current exhibition in the Academy's James Watrous Gallery is "Wisconsin's People on the Land," which is tied in with a much larger "Future of Farming" initiative. Despite our state's image (and ridiculously stereotypical state quarter with a cow, ear of corn and wheel of cheese--ugh!), the agricultural way of life is undergoing drastic changes, as it is everywhere. "Wisconsin's People on the Land" addresses these issues innovatively by involving artists, rural sociologists, folklorists and farmers. My review of this show ran in Isthmus, Madison's alt weekly.

Posted by Jennifer A. Smith at April 24, 2007 7:00 AM

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Aww. I'm not a native Wisconsinite, but I live here and love it now. And I like that cow on the quarter...

Posted by: Kelly at April 30, 2007 9:15 PM

This organization sounds like the ideal kind of group that could step in where newspapers are stepping out: that is, serving the community by leading discussion of the arts and their impact on the community. Newspapers as commercial concerns are turning away from, say, book coverage, because it is unclear to the corporate mentality what the value of book reviews are to readers, to the newspaper and the company. But a long-standing institution like the Wisconsin Academy of Arts, Sciences and Letters (having been around since 1870, after all) could lead the way in bringing attention, focus and examination of books that are written locally, published locally or concentrate on local issues, ideas and concerns.

Posted by: John Stoehr at May 4, 2007 11:27 AM

John, yes, I think the Academy is doing a great job in bringing together the arts and humanities with local life and local issues ("local" in this case really meaning statewide). Their quarterly magazine regularly publishes poetry and fiction by Wisconsin authors and usually includes some some news/profiles/what-have-you about state writers.

The mag was renamed "Wisconsin People & Ideas" since the previous name, "Wisconsin Academy Review," was found to be too academic and off-putting to some. The mag was not watered down in any way, but the new name (even though I kind of liked the old one!) better reflects its nature as a general-interest cultural magazine, not an academic journal.

Here's some more info:

Posted by: Jennifer A. Smith at May 4, 2007 11:59 AM