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Cultural Links That Bind

by Gary John Gresl

Every culture has elements that link people together in common interests. Obviously there are sports, and in our area that means the Packers, the Brewers, other professional teams, the university rivalries. One need not be a star football player to be involved at some interest level with a sport. Wisconsin also has its cabin culture, the fishing and hunting, the landscape and farming environments which further link specific areas, like interests and which spur discussion and a sense of community. There are commonalities, those collective interests and a sense of camaraderie, binding the areas inhabitants,

The regional publications respond to these interests and promote further attentiveness by reporting about them, commenting on results, examining personalities and the whole milieu. There is a cycle, one thing leads to more things...more talk, more discussion, more interest...more reporting and therefore more publication about the shared interests.

One obstacle we may be facing concerning our regional art culture stems from the smaller percentage of citizens that have interest in and support of the arts...visual and performing. We might suspect that visual art finds a smaller audience because it is not the same sort of interactive entertainment that one expects from performance art. (It seems appropriate to mention that Dan Keegan, the recently new Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, recognizes that the meaningful and enjoyable experience in MAM and other museums is what will impress and draw a larger audience...and therefore feed the cycle for more support and recognition.)

The generally smaller audience for visual art likely also has to do with breakdowns in arts education, due to lack of funding and local support (another cycle) as well as what might be weaknesses in some methods of teaching, drawing more students to appreciate, understand and participate in art making, their support and growth. One need not be highly skilled in draftsmanship or the refinements of art production to participate, appreciate and gain from it ...just as one need not be a star athlete to have fun with sports as participant or observer.

But, no matter what else, the regional community of citizens needs to be made aware, to be informed, and to become convinced that there are entertaining, meaningful, educational, economic and personally enriching reasons to pay more attention to our visual arts. This is a job for anyone who is in a position to inform the public...and that does mean the regional media! Printed hard copy, Internet publications, radio and TV must be made to "get it", to recognize that creative acts of art making have a positive effect on the self view and economy of our region. Interest in art culture can link us and strengthen our communities just like sports and politics.

It seems that along side of increased interest in the many outlying cultures of Earth due to flow of information on the Internet and in the media, there is also a national awakening of interest in “things regional”. These include such elements as area cuisine, characteristic food production, local film and cultural events, a drawing together of smaller economies and group marketing, a seeking of distinctive regional color and character. In regional interest areas, including art making, are we all to be alike, to look, act and think like persons from outside our communities? Where should we blend and where should we remain unique?
Instead of travelers and the curious merely seeing the same major artists in the cookie cutter collections of large museums, there is always the interest in finding unique and distinguishing specifics of regions. What sets them apart? What can we learn that is different and even inspiring? After all, do we travel to find the same thing that one can find back home?
To those who visit us from the outside, we are the exotic and interesting...unless we ourselves are cookie cutter creations. 

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