By Jim Evans
Oshkosh is looked upon as a leader in the arts in several ways. We are very fortunate to have the 3rd largest campus in the UW system located here, through their art, music and theater departments, Oshkosh provides with a depth of culture. We also have a fine symphony and choral groups, recently several community acting groups have brought the stage to life. Oshkosh also has the historic Paine Art Center and Gardens, which brings nationally recognized exhibitions to our city. Yet there is something missing. Something that 25 other cities and towns in Wisconsin can lay claim to that Oshkosh cannot. Something that Oshkosh could certainly support and benefit from. What is this missing link in Oshkosh? A Community Arts Center.
Community Arts Centers typically provide these activities to the communities they serve: Exhibition space for local and regional artists. Working studios for artists and musicians. Art Classes including an arts based early childhood program: grade school, middle school and high school classes. Adult evening classes and summer art camps. Opportunities for artists to exhibit and sell their work. Community Outreach programs including public art projects such as Community Murals and other programs are often coordinated and sponsored by local community arts centers. Community Arts Centers are also popular destinations for school groups and a fun place for students to experience the arts. Community Art Centers are an ideal place to hold community events such as Empty Bowls, a nationwide project dedicated to the aid of hunger-fighting organizations. Community Art Centers are often rented out for fund raisers, weddings and other special events that are looking for a creative place meet.
What would a community arts center give Oshkosh? A place. A place where all of the local art groups could coordinate and work with each other. A place where people could learn how to be creative. A place where local and regional artists could show their work in a professional venue. A place for local music performances. A place that fosters community development and builds a sense of community.
Imagine an Oshkosh three years in the future. Because of a Brilliantly written story published in the December 2013 Oshkosh Scene championing the benefits of community arts centers, Oshkosh bought and refurbished the former Klein’s building on Main Street and converted it into Wisconsin’s preeminent Community Arts Center called The Downtown Oshkosh Community Arts Center or DOCAC and it quickly becomes the center of Downtown Oshkosh.
On the first floor, ArtSpace Collective Inc. is exhibiting the third installment of TheTriennial. But this time the show is different. Because the organizers didn’t have to spend valuable time and energy looking for and fixing up a venue, they had ample time to publicize the exhibition bringing in a more varied pool of artists and viewers alike. While poets read their poems inspired by the work hanging in The Triennial a string quartet is playing chamber music which drifts down from the balcony. Artists who have studio space on the third floor are having an open studio night where people can see how art is created. On the 4th floor a local playwright is having a first read of the play she spent the last year writing with the help of the other writers in the writing studio. In the gift shop you can purchase a unique gift or one of a kind treasure handmade by local artists. Learn about printmaking, ceramics or any other artistic medium by signing up for one of the many studio workshops that are taught by local artists.
Towards the end of the school year DOCAC sponsors the Festival of the Arts, a week long celebration featuring the work of our schools Art, Music and Theater students. Just imagine if Oshkosh, Wisconsin’s Event City had a Tie Dye Music Festival organized by DOCAC that featured music from the Sixties, Natural Foods and Tie-Dying. Imagine the excitement and news coverage the event city would garner when DOCAC puts on a Steamroller Print Festival where various groups a reverse as High School Students the senior center and various groups on campus worked in collaboration creating 4’ X 8’ woodcuts which are then printed by a steamroller! Picture the monthly gallery walk when these mammoth prints are displayed at Downtown Oshkosh Community Arts Center. Instead of buying mass produced banners for our downtown, The business community could have he artists belonging to the Downtown Oshkosh Community Arts Center design and print unique one of a kind banners promoting everything from the Holiday Parade to Irish Fest.
The Downtown Oshkosh Community Arts Center could be an extraordinary place. A place full of creativity, energy, inspiration, celebration, music, and art. If only it existed.
Jim Evans is a born and bread Oshkoshian. He and his dog Luna currently spend their days running Art Haus in Downtown Oshkosh.