Sculpting out downtown

Story by Briana Gruenewald

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When Sherry Mohr and her husband moved to Eau Claire from South Dakota, they realized the downtown area was a perfect location for an artistic opportunity — which is how Sculpture Tour Eau Claire came to fruition nearly two years ago.

Benny Haas, owner of art supply store Benny HaHa, 204 Barstow St., attended the informational meeting Mohr held at the Chamber of Commerce about starting a sculpture program. He said it was a “no brainer” that he get involved with the project.

“I definitely have an invested interest in the arts of Eau Claire,” he said. “Hopefully this will be the first of many (sculpture programs) in the state of Wisconsin.”

Haas is now one of seven volunteer board members of Sculpture Tour Eau Claire, which officially begins on June 4 and will last for 50 weeks. The committee chose 26 original sculptures from over 200 applications from artists around the country, as well as international artists from countries such as England and Canada, that will be displayed downtown.

The intent of the program, partnership and site sponsor coordinator Mohr said, is to beautify the downtown area, draw in tourists and strengthen the city’s economy.

Barstow Street will house the bulk of the sculptures, but Mohr said she hopes the project will expand in the coming years, reaching to Water and Madison streets.

Jim Clarke, director of a similar program in Sioux Falls, S.D. called SculptureWalk, which is going into its eighth year, said he has been working closely with the Eau Claire program. He anticipates Sculpture Tour Eau Claire bringing results similar to that of SculptureWalk.

“It’s made downtown more vibrant,” he said. “We have more people coming down to see the sculptures, shop in the stores and eat in the restaurants.”

Mohr said this is truly a community effort, as several businesses and organizations have partnered with Sculpture Tour to extend the efforts of the project. The Leader-Telegram will host a contest, inviting community members to upload pictures they take of the sculptures. Sacred Heart is sponsoring The Art of Fitness, which uses the sculptures as distance markers.

Another partnership Mohr said she hopes to make in the near future is with UW-Eau Claire because she is particularly impressed with the sculpture degree program it offers. Assistant professor of sculpture Jason Lanka said while there are no concrete plans in the works, he welcomes the idea.

“The Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is just getting started, so it’s going to take … some time to work out a relationship,” he said. “The most important thing is the fact that they do want to work with us. That says a lot.”
Apart from simply enjoying the sculptures for 50 weeks, Haas said community members have the chance to vote for their favorite sculpture during the first three months of the program. The sculpture with the most votes, known as the People’s Choice, will permanently reside in an Eau Claire park, to be chosen by the City of Eau Claire.

Mohr said the program, which is absolutely free to the public, is something people of all ages and economic backgrounds can experience.

“It’s a way to have an activity that is really affordable and very amazing,” she said. “I think everyone will admire and enjoy it.”

For more information on Sculpture Tour Eau Claire or to get involved as a volunteer throughout the 50 week program, visit www.sculpturetour.com or visit their Facebook page.

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