Wisconsin has always been a place where the Arts spring from the grass roots, all about people participating…really encouraging the Arts…statewide work and local focus.
We chatted with Anne Katz, Executive Director of Arts Wisconsin, we talked about the organization and delved into some of its programming, including Make Music Wisconsin, and the We’re All In Creative Workforce Program. We also chat about community involvement, how Covid affected the arts, and what’s next for the organization.
My name is Anne Katz. I am director of Arts Wisconsin, I’ve been director since 1995. I’m the first and only director of this organization. I am originally from the suburbs of New York City. And I always say that not only did I not know anything about Wisconsin, I didn’t really care about Wisconsin, it wasn’t a place that was ever on my radar screen. Nobody in my family ever left New York and I came here because I got a job working for our local theatre company as a fundraiser which didn’t last very long. And I was trying to be an actress to New York. And I came here because it seemed like you know an interesting thing to do. And I thought I’d go back to New York in about a year and 37 years later, here I am. And it’s turned out to be the right place for me. And I’m very glad that circumstances brought me here. I came to Arts Wisconsin because I’ve always been involved in the arts. My career goal was going to be I was going to be a big Broadway star. That was really what I wanted to be with my life. And I tried to do that in New York and just sort of didn’t, couldn’t figure it out. So I migrated into the administrative side of the arts. And I worked for a lot of different nonprofit organizations and ended up kind of working as a community organizer. And that led me to this community organization.
Brent Hanifl 02:34
I’ve seen the logo around and I’ve noticed some of your different programming. What is the initial purpose of Arts Wisconsin like the purpose, but also like, how did it get its start?
Anne Katz 02:43
Well, it started in the early 90s, when the Wisconsin Arts Board, so George Soros, who you’ve talked to, was very instrumental in the development of this organization. The Arts Board brought together people working in the arts around the state to kind of revitalize the network of people who were working in the arts around the state. And Wisconsin has always been a place where the arts sprang from the grassroots, we are known, we are all about people participating. And we have the Wisconsin idea and our progressive traditions. So it was really all about encouraging the arts from the grassroots up, statewide work and local focus. We have always been a community, comma, people and place focused organization. So we’re really all about encouraging the arts for everyone everywhere in the state. We believe that we know that the arts make us human that humans have been expressing themselves creatively since the beginning of time. And we encourage that kind of that expansive involvement, and especially as in the last 20 years, the whole idea that the arts and creativity are a resource for Wisconsin, that can have a very positive effect on economic vitality education for the 21st century, vibrant communities and engaged residents. That’s the advocacy and service work we do. So we are not a producing or presenting organization like in real costs, like the Pump House or the Weber Center, the symphony, those kinds of organizations. We are an organization that helps those organizations and local officials and economic development people and educators and pretty much anyone who cares about Wisconsin’s future, our job is to be of service. So that means we do everything from lobby to legislature. We have a bill in front of the legislature right now for rural creative economy development, and help people who want to make their living in the arts figure out what that means help nonprofits raise money, help do what we do a lot of planning around community growth and impact. So I’ve been everywhere in the state. I can tell you where the best pie and ice cream is. And I’m in awe of the creativity that is out there really in every corner of Wisconsin and I get to help some way.
Brent Hanifl 05:01
I’ve noticed some of your different programs, you know, and you kind of referenced a few there as well. But you know, even one this last summer when everyone’s kind of really excited to get out into public spaces and listen to music, you have some stuff on there like Make Music, Wisconsin, there’s some other programs like, the All In Creative Work First program, can you share a bit on any some of those key projects a little bit more?
Anne Katz 05:23
Yeah, we. So Make Music is a really great example of sort of connecting work that we do. So Make Music Day is a program that started in Paris in the 1980s. And it is a global day of music. It’s people get together to make music on June 21st, which is the summer solstice, not really about professional musicians, performing for people, it’s about people performing with other people. And so La Crosse was involved with it last year, which are this year, which I was really glad about. People do performances on their porches, or they do concerts in the park, or now that we’ve been through two years of COVID. There’s a lot of stuff that happens online. And so we, we there are, at the moment, 13 different communities around the state that are doing this program. And so we’re helping coordinate and we’re helping promote it. So that’s example of a program, the Creative Workforce Program was all about. As the pandemic started, and people got slammed with shutting down their businesses and stopping their work. We thought we gotta help people try to figure things out. And so we approached the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the state commerce agency and said, we have an idea about putting artists to work and getting them getting people paid for their work. And it’s based kind of on the WPA program from the Depression, when the government paid artists to create murals and write plays and do things like that. And so WEDC was very interested, and we got funding that we then distributed to organizations like the Pump House. And the Pump House was part of it, that they hired artists who created, some created murals, some created sculptures, that’s what happened in lacrosse, we had music programs for kids, we had some literary things going on in other places. And so we had to move fast, right? So we thought of a way to get money into people’s hands right away so that they could make their living, feed their children, pay their mortgage, you know, things like that. And so we’ve been continuing it, and we’re looking for funding so we can keep doing it because it helps them live in the community. It puts artists to work. So that’s a win win.
Brent Hanifl 07:32
Yeah, just looking over the page on that subject. I mean, everything it looks like mosaic cards to performances to, you know, different things around here, which is, you know, Viroqua, Wisconsin is just down the road.
Anne Katz 07:43
Right, I just went to the launch of their Siva Roca program, which for some wonderful mural things promoting the city.
Brent Hanifl 07:50
Definitely, I’m sure you’d take financial support, but how else can community members, you know, and potentially organizations get involved with Arts Wisconsin?
Anne Katz 08:00
Well, we have a very robust social media presence. So we have our Facebook page, Twitter feed, and Instagram. So we really try to keep that as lively as possible so that people can know about what’s going on around the state and really around the world. And we can share information not only about what we’re doing, but about what’s happening out there in the world. So that’s an ongoing conversation. You can get our newsletter, you can come to our events, both virtual and in person, hopefully at some point. We do a lot of sort of conferences and meetings about everything from getting groups of artists and performers and creative people together to educating people about what you know, they infer the the economic impact of the arts, or about arts policy. And so artswisconsin.org is a place where people can get to that. I will also say that in the next year, as we know, it’s going to be a huge elections year, campaigning year for Wisconsin and the country. Three quarters of our legislature is up for election or re-election. We have a Senate race, we have our congressional races, and we’re going to be doing as much as we can to help the candidates know about the impact of the creative economy. We talk about things like it’s a $10.9 billion economic driver. And there are more jobs in Wisconsin’s Creative Industries than the beer, biotech and papermaking industries in the state. So we’re going to be sharing a lot of information that people will can use to educate their candidates. We’re going to be encouraging people to get involved in the political process, not only to vote, but also to pay attention to the issues out there work on political campaigns, to help candidates know about what’s happening in their communities. As I said, I’m really a community organizer. And we’re always trying to get people involved not only in the political process, but in their communities. And I think if we learned anything from the pandemic, it is certainly that there’s nothing that replaces actual human contact. And we all have to we’re all part of a community, whether it’s our neighborhood or the state or the country, it’s really important for us to be connected, not just by virtual, which is a helpful tool, but actually in person. And so that’s how, you know, people come together through the arts. So we’re working a lot in the political realm, but really in the community engagement realm.
Brent Hanifl 10:24
Of course, 99.9% of the population has experienced the pandemic. And, you know, just talking a lot of artists around the La Crosse region, some of them, you know, its just detrimental to their wealth and things like that, but a lot use the time to reassess their business or invest in their business or be creative in the sense, was there anything that came out of COVID for Arts, Wisconsin, that was maybe positive, but you can also share negative components of it?
Anne Katz 10:50
I think, yeah, I’ve been amazed at how we have how creative people have been, we have been forced to be creative, right in the face of circumstances that we could not imagine. For us at our constituents, which is the entire state, it was kind of an immediate pivot in that the constituents, the arts constituents, we worked with kind of everything stopped, the performance has stopped their gigs, stop whatever they did. And so we immediately pivoted to kind of bringing people together, often using I think, within a week of the shutdown, actually, less than a week, we started hosting weekly meetings, almost daily meetings for people to kind of talk to each other and share information. So I mean, we would not have wished for a pandemic, but that was actually kind of a positive thing. In that we were able to help people talk to each other, they just needed to talk and like, what are you doing? What am I doing? You know, you know, we I did a lot of sort of consulting and advising with people in communities, you know, what did you do? And what could you do, don’t just sit there think of something you can do. And again, I have been in awe of how people just kind of after we certainly we’ve all mourned the fact that the pandemic happened, but we none of us had time to sit around and mourn it, right. So we’ve done a lot of advising, a lot of consulting, a lot of planning, mostly over zoom and trying to bring people together so that we have also been advocating for the state in the state and the Feds and local communities had Cares Act money, and now AARP money, we’ve been advocating to make sure that the decision makers knew that if we’re talking about helping jobs, businesses and people, that people who make their living in the arts, you know, our workers just like anybody else. And so we were instrumental in helping the state get over, designate over $40 million dollars, in Cares Act money that went to movie theaters, live venues, and nonprofit arts organizations. Now, we’ve been working on AARP money and sort of helping the state and communities figure that out, too. So we kind of ramped up our advocacy as much as we could, you know, we’re a nonprofit organization like many of our constituents, so our, if our constituents don’t have money, then we don’t have money. So we thank God for cares that money and AARP funding and you know, people who were still were able to be generous, but we’ve been pivoting and are still pivoting as much as possible. And I think we just have to try to make it into something positive.
Brent Hanifl 13:19
Sounds like you’re pretty busy. But you know, just the the things that you’re involved in from advocacy to the arts program programming. So what’s next, like what’s next for the organization looking down the road?
Anne Katz 13:31
Well, actually, I can’t go on in detail about it. But we’ve actually used the last year and a half to really plan for who we are and what we can do. And we’re going to kind of, we’re going to expand the whole idea of working in the creative realm. Not I don’t mean to say just the arts, but we’re really expanding what we’re doing in the arts, community and economy. And we’re putting those together. So we will actually have some big changes coming up that you’ll hear about after the New Year, I will say that our kind of organization has always been pivoting, we’ve always tried to stay ahead of what’s happening in the world. So we started as just a network of local art agencies, not just but a network of local art agencies, those kinds of organizations. And we were the Wisconsin Assembly For Local Arts Agencies. Then we started expanding the work we did with all forms of the arts and people involved in creativity. And so then we were the Wisconsin Assembly For Local Arts. And about 15 years ago, we became Arts Wisconsin, because that was just a simple way to say that we work with everybody, everywhere, you know, every place and we’re working up to our next name change, which will be more focused on creativity. That’s the hint. The world is changing. We’re still the same service and advocacy organization, but we need to make sure that we expand the conversation so that people understand that creativity is the resource for the 21st century. So that’s been a lot of work and figuring things out and starting a new website and doing all that kind of stuff. That’s kind of a behind the scenes work. But that’s, that was really, I think, accelerated by the pandemic. We had been talking about it for a while. But then we had, we sort of had a little more time, but we also had more urgency to move forward. We’re working on, you know, planning, we are busy, which, because there’s a lot of really good work to be done.
Brent Hanifl 15:27
Yeah, in some ways, you know, it’s almost exciting. You know, I mean, it was definitely a detriment to everybody, but it’s definitely there’s some exciting things in play when you’re tasked with it, and you have no other option.
Anne Katz 15:38
We’re living in a very interesting historical moment. Books and books and books will be written about this moment, you know, not just the pandemic, but our politics and the environment and social justice and everything. But really our throughout has been about making sure that the arts are accessible to everyone in the state, whatever that means to people, and that we all get to benefit from the creativity that’s around us whether it’s personally or the economy or whatever.
Brent Hanifl 16:05
So if people want to find out more, you know, throwing their support or just opt into an email or phone your social, what’s the best avenue for them to go to?
Anne Katz 16:13
Our website, which is artswisconsin.org. People can also send emails at email@example.com and our social media we have Facebook page, Twitter feed, so they can go to those avenues and find out more about what we’re doing and what’s happening around the state.
Amy Gabay 16:34
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