ArtStart celebrates 10 years as it envisions a more inclusive, community-driven future


Ten years ago, a small group of volunteers came together with one goal: to create a space in the community to celebrate art.

Today, ArtStart is an integral part of the Northwoods community.

Sue Bessert is the Chair of the ArtStart Board of Directors and has been involved with the cultural and community center since its inception a decade ago.

“It’s really happened to the community to say yes to the arts,” Bessert said.

She said 10 years ago the Rhine community said they wanted more development and riverside arts as the region turned to strategic planning.

When the government announced that it was going to sell the federal building on the corner of Stevens and King streets, Bessert and a small, dedicated group thought that would be the perfect solution.

“We said, ‘Oh my God, this would be the perfect opportunity for public space for the arts,’” she said. “So many things have come out of the city center, but for now to keep and bring something back and activate this building with the community so that people come from anywhere in the city on the outskirts, in the suburbs or in another city, come downtown because there are cool things happening downtown. “

The city of Rhineland bought the building from the federal government for a dollar and that’s how ArtStart was born.

The group converted the space with the goal of making it a venue for visual art exhibits with a vision that Northwoods residents wouldn’t have to travel to big cities to experience art.

“We made a bold decision and I think that was part of our success,” Bessert said.

In the years that followed, ArtStart grew, not only in space but in the community.

He’s focused on expanding his outdoor space into an ArtPark, he’s offering different art programs for kids and adults, and he’s collaborating with community partners on things like Project North and In Progress. It should be noted that WXPR is one of ArtStart’s community partners.

“ArtStart does so many things. It’s hard to put it all and describe it all in one box, ”said Ashley McLaughlin, Director of Programs and Operations.

McLaughlin joined ArtStart four years ago.

“That’s probably the exciting part of an organization, is when it is just starting out, when it reaches the growth stage and the maturity stage of an organization,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said that now ArtStart has established itself in the community and in the region, it can develop in different ways.

It is important to her that ArtStart is an inclusive place that can challenge and support people.

“ArtStart is all about expression. It’s about inclusion. It’s about meeting everyone where they are, appreciating them for it, and helping others develop. It’s about having fun together and doing things that are necessary and necessary and using art as a vehicle to do it, ”she said.

McLaughlin believes art is more important than ever with all the problems, or opportunities as she calls them, the world faces.

“Art just reminds us to take a breath sometimes when we feel overwhelmed and go for it, that anything is possible,” McLaughlin said.

It is McLaughlin’s hope that members of the community will use the art to lead meaningful conversations and make the Rhinelander and the Northwoods a better place. This is her vision for the future of ArtStart.

“ArtStart has probably far exceeded what the founders of ArtStart thought in the first ten years. Rapid change, rapid growth, but definitely a necessary part of our community, ”she said.

It certainly exceeded Sue Bessert’s expectations.

“Personally, I didn’t have all of that vision,” Bessert said.

But she’s loved watching ArtStart grow over the past 10 years to be what it is now, and she can’t wait to see what the future holds.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but we are in a great process,” she said. “We got off to a good start and, boy, I think we have a great future too. “

Bessert and McLaughlin encourage anyone who has never been to ArtStart to come to the Open Gallery or one of their programs.

ArtStart invites the community to celebrate its 10th anniversary with its “Party on the Street” on Saturday.

It runs from 5:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and is free and open to the public.


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