Cultural Links That Bind – Things Regional

by Gary John Gresl

Every culture has elements that link people together in common interests.  Wherever we go there are sports, which in our area means the Packers, the Brewers, the university rivalries, other semi professional teams on down to sand lot squads. One need not be a star athlete 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, those like interests which spur discussion and a sense of community.  There are commonalities, special collective interests and a sense of camaraderie, binding the area’s inhabitants,

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 examination and therefore more publication about the shared topics.

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 “performances”. It seems appropriate to mention that Dan Keegan, the recently new Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum, recognizes that it is spectacle and interactive experience that will impress and draw a larger audience...therefore feeding the cycle of more recognition and burgeoning support.

The generally smaller audience for visual art also may have to do with breakdowns in arts education due to lack of funding and local backing (another cycle). It might also be important to examine what might be missed in art education and appreciation, the methods and goals. Why can’t we draw more students to savvy, understand and enjoy art culture, encouraging their ongoing support and growth?  Peer influence? What is “hot” and who is “cool”? 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. We need to strengthen visual art’s reputation and substructure.

Influencing the General Public?
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 and influence 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, politics and lesser spectacles. It appears we need to get the attention of the media makers, to inform and educate them, so they carry the messages to the people.

It seems natural that there is always interest in the many outlying exotic cultures of Earth recently in good part due to flow of information on the Internet and in the media. Human cultures may be drawing together and becoming more one like the other. But it is also being discussed lately how there is a national awakening of interest in “things regional”. These include examination of such elements as area cuisine, characteristic food products, local film and cultural events, a drawing together to strengthen smaller economies with promotional joint marketing, a seeking of distinctive regional color and character.  In regional interest areas, including art making, are we all alike? Are we to look, act and think like persons from outside our communities? Where should we blend and where should we remain unique?

There is always 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 things that one can find back home? Do we really visit museums to see the cookie cutter collections of major art figures alone?

Let us seriously encourage and examine art education, art promotion and media support as we nurture our distinctive regional character and health. To those who visit us from the outside, we are the exotic and interesting...unless we ourselves become cookie cutter creations.