Two-year survey finds Eau Claire diverse

Story by Eric Christenson

Like people, places have their own unique quirks, personalities and histories.  Whether it is access to parks, rich arts culture or activities for children, what about those qualities make that place a good one to live in?

That’s precisely what the Chippewa Valley Museum has been trying to figure out for the last two years: what makes Eau Claire County special?

“In my time visiting the area, it seemed to me that Eau Claire has been taking itself for granted, not seeing the richness and diversity that already exists,” Lisa Mount wrote in her cover letter for The Good Life, a collection of data and documents compiled from mailed-in and online resident surveys providing information on how the county views itself.

Mount heads a company called Artistic Logistics, based out of Georgia, whose independent consultants “provide a variety of services to arts organizations in urban and rural areas throughout the U.S.A.”

After receiving a $93,782 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the Chippewa Valley Museum, as well as other community partners, worked with Artistic Logistics to form the survey and make a plan for how to move forward with the information.

The big idea behind The Good Life is to have local government officials and decision makers consult the data and let it affect the choices that are made that concern the county’s citizens, as it’s essentially from the citizens.

The survey contains a variety of information from an array of subjects, such as access to community events and use of city facilities.  There is also an emphasis on ‘why’ some of the information came back the way it did.

Senior Ben Streeter has lived in Eau Claire for three years as a student at UW-Eau Claire and said that he thinks that Eau Claire is a culturally diverse place, but the majority of people don’t know it.

“When you think of culture — diversity, specifically — you tend to assume when you see a lot of the same-looking people as yourself, it’s not a diverse community,” Streeter said. “I don’t think that’s a fair assessment.”

Streeter is originally from the Twin Cities area, which he said is known for its arts awareness and appreciation.  He said that he was surprised at the amount of arts appreciation that comes out of Eau Claire, and that’s not something a person can always see in cities of its size.

But the problem, he said, is that not many people know about the events and the richness of the community.

Senior Megan Roltgen said that she’s always heard about the arts scene as being energetic and vibrant but hasn’t seen it.  She said that’s mostly a problem in advertising and making events accessible.

“I just don’t ever hear about things,” she said. “Either I don’t go to places where they advertise or they need to advertise more.  I think it could be a really good place for culture to thrive, and it just needs a little bit of help.”

And that’s exactly what The Good Life hopes to accomplish by publishing its information and making it accessible.  One question on the survey actually addresses Roltgen’s concerns with data that agreed with her.

The survey said 56 percent of respondents indicated “I’m not aware of what’s going on” as a reason that keeps them from being involved in more arts, cultural and heritage activities.

While some may find some problems with the way Eau Claire County’s culture is now, The Good Life hopes to influence decision makers to address those concerns with information directly from the public at their fingertips.

Streeter said that things are happening whether or not people know about them.

“If you look, it’s out there,” he said, “and it’s not that hard to find.”