Advocacy, community, and Arts Wisconsin

by Ann Huntoon, President, Arts Wisconsin

This blog posting comes at an interesting time. And, to quote a common opening remark from Arts Wisconsin’s Executive Director, “We LIVE in interesting times.” The news takes a lot of digesting lately and it’s so difficult to talk about our world, much less make sense of what faces us every day. However, I think that we can all agree on one thing – the arts are indispensable. There’s no doubt that music heals, that making art is a panacea, that experiencing art with others brings us together.

My first encounter with Arts Wisconsin was almost eight years ago when I attended my very first board meeting for the Association of Wisconsin Symphony Orchestras. I was a brand-new executive director of a regional orchestra and hungry to connect with colleagues who had the knowledge and experience I was seeking. The opening welcome was given by the mayor of Green Bay, and then the keynote speaker was Anne Katz, presenting on the Cultural Data Project. That was when I opened my toolbox and started filling it with talking points, hanging onto every word, and furiously taking notes on books to read, articles to find, people that I needed to meet. I also began to understand that the role of being an arts advocate meant that the first requirement was the ability to step way outside of my comfort zone.

I was raised in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio, but always had a romantic relationship with northern Wisconsin. Our grandparents took my brother and me on our first trip to Prairie Lake, crossing Lake Michigan on the SS Badger. Several years later, my grandfather built an A-frame cottage on the lake and my parents and two brothers spent our summer vacations there every year, making the 700 mile trek from Ohio in a Volkswagon (no air-conditioning), with dog hair pasted to our sweaty faces. Those magical weeks of unscheduled time in the water, bike rides to Heuser’s dry goods store, and adventures in the deep woods created a sense that this is where I belonged.

My parents were readers and artists, and dinner table conversations often included stories about our ancestors in Wisconsin. We had books by August Derleth, Robert Gard, and L.G. Sorden on the shelves at home. My mother’s father was a cattle rancher in Illinois, but spent the winter months in a room in the farmhouse, painting landscapes in oil. He was influenced by the work of Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, and Aaron Bohrod. My dad’s father introduced us to Ruth Stolle, an artist from Tripoli, Wisconsin, whose husband was a childhood friend of his. We spent afternoons at her home, amidst her hundreds of sketches, paintings, and stacks of books. We had several of her paintings hanging in our home.  The ideals of these experiences are my comfort zone, and never imagined that these things weren’t a part of everyone’s lives.

I have a sense of responsibility and calling to do the work that I do in Wisconsin because of my heritage. It’s a way to connect with my ancestors and to be a part of the culture that we find ourselves advocating for, and it’s also a connector to those generations-next who will benefit from those values we hold dear.  In conversation with my colleagues, I often hear, “I don’t have time for advocacy on top of everything that I need to get done.” And my response is that we are all advocating through the great work that we do in our communities every day, but it is vitally important that we are able to tell the story. Advocacy is an active, life-long process and I am so very grateful for the investment of Arts Wisconsin for the past 25 years. Writing blogs and public speaking is a bit outside of my own comfort zone, but I know that the intrinsic reward is so much greater.  I am honored to serve as President and to work shoulder-to-shoulder with every advocate for the arts in Wisconsin.

To finish up, it’s my job as President to ask for support of the organization’s mission, vision and purpose.   Arts Wisconsin needs your support to grow the advocacy, service and development work we do on your behalf.  Please help us do that important work by joining as an individual, organization or business.  Click here for all the info to join.  Many thanks for your good work and for your support!