Michigan-Wisconsin Border Project Collections



Michigan's project plan was developed by Marsha MacDowell (Michigan State University Museum Curator of Folk Arts and Michigan Traditional Arts Program Coordinator) based on conversations with Betty Boone (Executive Director of Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs), Richard March (Folk and Community Arts Specialist, Wisconsin Arts Board), Yvonne Lockwood (Curator of Folklife and Folklife Extension Specialist, MSU Museum), and C. Kurt Dewhurst (Director, MSU Museum). MacDowell and Lockwood coordinated the project, assisted by researchers Dan Gilmore, LaNeysa Harris Featherstone, Nancy (Kless) Matthews, and Lynne Swanson.

The Wisconsin Arts Board's Folk and Community Arts Specialist Richard March coordinated the Wisconsin portion of the project and hired five fieldworkers for short county surveys of artists, traditional artists, and arts organizations mostly on the Wisconsin side of the border. Folklorists Trudy Balcom surveyed Vilas County; Janet C. Gilmore, Marinette and Menominee counties; Gina Grumke, Florence County; and Ruth Olson, Iron and Gogebic counties. Community contact Walt Gander provided a list of contacts from throughout the region.

Project History

In March 1994, the Wisconsin Arts Board held a joint meeting with the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs in Ironwood, Michigan, where constituents voiced concerns about the lack of arts support in the region. That summer WAB joined with White Pine Broadcasting (WXPR) community radio in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, one of the most active and highest profile arts organizations in northeastern Wisconsin, to survey the Wisconsin portion of the region for existing cultural resources. The effort relied on National Endowment for the Arts funding that supported WAB's “Arts in Underserved Communities Initiative” (USC), a partnership with the private Milwaukee Foundation to serve economically depressed and underserved areas of the state.

From August to October 1994, five fieldworkers conducted research in Wisconsin's five-county Michigan border area for the WAB-WXPR project, completing reports that identify more than 400 contacts, including artists, traditional artists, museums, galleries, businesses, and organizations that support the area's arts and cultural heritage. Over a dozen traditional artists identified received fuller documentation. The fieldwork revealed the lack of non-profit arts infrastructure to which state arts agencies typically make grants and a lack of coordination between state programs to support cultural activities across state boundaries.

In October 1994, WAB staff met with representatives from the Michigan State University Museum about conducting a similar survey on the Michigan side of the state line. Through its new local arts and culture contacts, WAB held a series of town meetings in early 1995 in Marinette, Florence, Land O' Lakes, and Hurley to seek citizen input on how best to serve the arts community, since the region lacks arts organizations to which to award grants.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, MacDowell, Lockwood, and colleagues compiled information from the extensive ethnographic documentation in the Michigan Traditional Arts Program's Research Collection and Reference Library and from varied listings and directories of artists, arts organizations, and other cultural resources generated over the years by the state's arts and humanities councils and museums association, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, Great Lakes Indian Artists Association, and Michigan Northern Economics Initiative Center. They also obtained names of more contacts from local resources, family, and friends through field research, phone inquiries, and other communications. Project recommendations included continued identification of resources, dissemination of a published list of artists in the region, an in-depth cultural resource documentation project that would follow up on leads and identify more, and further planning with WAB and the Michigan Humanities Council.