Arts Wisconsin is striving to grow strong cultural communities in Wisconsin, develop an essential creative economy and allow access to the arts for people of all backgrounds.  

The Badger Herald sat down with Anne Katz, Arts Wisconsin’s executive director, to discuss culture, community and art specifically in Wisconsin.

The Badger Herald: What is Arts Wisconsin and what does it do the communities in Wisconsin?

Anne Katz: We are the state’s community and culture development organization.  That means we are concerned with everything that has to do with the arts — all disciplines, all different kinds of art and creativity.  We do as much as we can to advocate, serve, and develop the arts. We’re not a producing or presenting organization, we don’t do the arts, we’re a service organization.  

We do everything from conferences to workshops, to having information to lobbying the legislature, to helping with strategic planning and technical assistance. We work with nonprofit organizations, local government, nonprofit groups, the education community, the business community — pretty much everyone who cares about Wisconsin’s future.  We don’t get into conversations about what is art or who is an artist. That’s not our job.  

Coversation Starter: Matt Smith of Thompson Springs, The SharrowsThe Badger Herald is pleased to announce the beginning of Conversation Starter, a new column for the ArtsEtc. section. The column will Read…

BH: What are some specific programs you offer and what are the more recent events you are focusing on right now?

AK: We do a lot of gatherings, everything from small meetings in specific communities to state-wide conferences.  Right now, I’m planning our state-wide, local art conference: the Wisconsin Creative Summit which is going to happen Dec. 6 in Wausau.  

We bring a lot of people together, not just arts people but people in the bureaucracy community, businesses and everyone else to network, to learn from each other, to help have the network of people working in culture and arts around the state.  

We have a lot of technical assistance programs that help organizations and businesses and people in communities figure out issues.  For example, we’ll work with a nonprofit organization on strategic planning.  We work with artists to help them learn business skills and make a living in the arts. We work on advocacy in all ways.  

Once we get to January and the new legislature and budget season, we will hopefully be getting a bill on the legislature to develop a program called Wisconsin Creates, which is all about growing Wisconsin’s creative economy.

BH: What are some challenges you face specifically in Wisconsin?

AK: We face the same challenges that any other business or community faces. You know, I wouldn’t use the word “challenges” because the arts aren’t separate from everything else that’s happening in the world or in the state.  

There are plenty of challenges in people’s lives and communities’ lives, but if we focused on the challenges, we would never get anything done. I say that we are always addressing issues of, of course, funding. People have great ideas out there and the issue is how you find the resources, not just money, to do the work that needs to be done.

BH: So it seems that Arts Wisconsin essentially is a platform for art communities.

AK: I love that word. We’re a platform, a catalyst, a convener. All of those words. Although I will say, we not only help things get started, we sort of help things continue to move. In some ways, I’m exaggerating. It’s easy to start things. It’s quote unquote “easy to open an art center.  Everybody wants to give money. Everybody wants to see their name on the door. It’s really fun to work on.  

The challenge is keeping it going. We have an ongoing conversation with the people of Wisconsin about how their communities are growing and how their education is for their children. When someone starts something and they hit a roadblock, then I get to come back and have another conversation, often with a whole different group of people.  We provide a lot of ongoing assistance.

BH: You’ve been around since 1992.  How has this organization evolved and changed with the landscape and culture of Wisconsin?

AK: Our mission has always been the same. We’re all about access to the arts for everyone, everywhere. We’re all about the arts as an economic, educational and civic resource.

What’s changed or evolved is actually pretty exciting because Wisconsin has always been a place where the arts are a part of people’s lives.  We have institutions in the big cities and small towns. That has to do with the Wisconsin Idea. We’re sort of an egalitarian state where people have always expressed themselves creatively.

The whole U.S. as a manufacturing economy has changed. What’s going to replace the holes are more small businesses, more entrepreneurial efforts, and that is great for Wisconsin. We have all the creative people and resources to be a model for the 21st century and what I see is that people are starting to understand that.  

There’s a lot more attention being paid to the arts businesses and arts efforts. I sometimes say that I’ve been talking about the creative economy for the last century, but it’s really only in the last few years that there’s a lot of traction in the past few years of putting more investment into that, which is a great thing.

BH: Where do you see the future of art in Wisconsin?

AK: The 21st century is demanding attention to be paid to education our kids for a world where they probably won’t have one job for their entire lives. I think there needs to be attention paid to how the education is going to change in our state and communities with the changing economy.  

I think tourism is a growing industry in Wisconsin and culture is definitely a part of that, and again we have so many wonderful, authentic and unique communities that is a huge growth area.  In general, there is going to be more small businesses, more experiential kinds of businesses and opportunities that people can have.  

We need arts educations in schools and things for people to do in the community. I feel pretty optimistic that there will continue to be attention paid to people participating in the arts, not just people that call themselves artists, but everybody.