When you walk in this building, you just feel that this is a special space…

Toni Asher

Executive Director, Pump House Regional Arts Center

The Pump House Regional Arts Center has been an active hub for regional artists for over 40 years.  It’s impressive that an art-based non profit could thrive in a community for so long.  It says a lot about La Crosse, the strength of its arts community, and the quality of the programs presented by the Pump House, that it has remained a supported organization since 1979.  The building itself is unique and on the National Registry of Historic Places.

“The original Pump House was built in 1880, as a water pumping station, hence the name Pump House, it really was a pumping station; and they used it to pump water from the Mississippi River for fire protection”, said Toni Asher, Executive Director of the Pump House.  “When you walk in this building, you just feel that this is a special space… They burned coal here to power the pumps, so you’re in a very industrial neighborhood, burning this very dirty material.  And yet, they put in this beautiful vaulted ceiling and the angle wood, and it just takes your breath away.”

The building is home to three gallery spaces where you will find exhibits from artists throughout the Midwest and around the country.  “We have an annual call to artists that goes out in September and is open through January 31st each year.  And through that call we receive applications from artists throughout the United States, but strongly from Wisconsin,Iowa and Minnesota,“ said Toni..

The Kader Gallery is the largest gallery space where artist receptions can easily entertain 200 guests, but it isn’t the only gallery space.  There is also a Front Gallery and Balcony Gallery.  “The strongest point of the Front Gallery is the black wall.  And that wall just makes artwork pop.   Artists plan their exhibitions around having that wall space.  And they also have a standard white wall and a wall in the natural tones.  It gives artists something to work with,” said Toni.

The Balcony Gallery is the one familiar to many La Crosse families as it features student artwork throughout the academic year.  Toni feels this can be quite the experience for families.  “Frequently this will be their first time coming to an art gallery, and sometimes they are a  little intimidated by the thought… but then they get here and they realize how accessible art is and it actually can be a life changing experience.  Now when they travel some place and they see that there is an art gallery open that they can go to.  They might go and have that experience, because they know from this experience, that it is an accessible activity that they can engage in.”

The Dayton Theatre off of the Balcony Gallery on the second floor seats 140 and holds concert series, comedies and film series on the stage throughout the year.  There is always something happening on stage, in the galleries, or in a class.  The Pump House offers “classes in fun and unusual things,” said Toni.  Including the Art of Fly Fishing, Paint and Pours, and an Open Clay Studio, among others.

For a full list of events and classes go to


Photography by © Dylan Overhouse Productions


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