The electric sensation of innovation and creativity was in the air as the 360 team walked through the quaint streets of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, whose name is French, meaning “clear water” because of the Eau Claire River. We couldn’t resist but make our first stop at Leinenkugel’s. Here the beer is German-style, crafted expertly with a Wisconsin vibe. The traditional fusion 150 years strong, founded by Jacob Leinenkugel, is a perfect example of what the citizens strive for; a well-rounded very cultural society infused with the Midwest pride.
In an interview with Linda John, the Executive Director of Visit Eau Claire, she responds to the city being compared to the very diverse Portland, Oregon and Austin, Texas: “Yes, I like those! Those comparisons paint the right picture of imagination, independent spirit, music, and art, and that’s spot on. Yet we also hold on to quintessential Wisconsin traditions, we’re protective of our untouched natural resources, and, of course, we also throw in a little flavor of winter.”
As we continued our walk, it was impossible to miss the Sculpture Tour. The Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is a non-profit organization dedicated to making art accessible and interactive. One-of-a-kind sculptures by artists from all over North America are displayed as an interactive art exhibit. The pieces are owned by the artists and loaned to the city of Eau Claire eleven months at a time, replaced every May with new creations.
Next stop! Lazy Monk Brewing for a bite to eat and more great beer. The owner, who is originally from Czechoslovakia, moved to Eau Claire about twenty years ago. He found himself puzzled when he had trouble finding a local brewery that brewed their beers traditionally, like he was used to at home. For years, he perfected his craft sharing with friends and family along the way. Finally, the time came to open Lazy Monk Brewery LLC. With a passion for promoting local artists and workers, everything involved with the brewery was contracted locally from the storage design to the artwork to the plumbing. It goes without saying that this city is inspirational, figuring out the perfect fusion of so many different cultures and that of the Midwest.
The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has played a huge role in the goal of constant improvement in the city. The success to Eau Claire is grounded on remarkable collaboration. On our visit, it was evident that love and teamwork is in place and keeps the city running. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Visit Eau Claire have a spectacular relationship. The university allows the community to book sporting events and conventions. The university is at the community development table, eager to partner with and aid in increasing tourism for those events. In 2007, a community wide process named “Clear Vision”, led by the citizens of Eau Claire and facilitated by the National Civic League, was created. In the first year of establishment, several hundred people came together to discuss and tackle any issues that needed attention. Despite much conflict and difference of opinions, they began to make headway in modernizing and improving the city in which they all live. The need for an arts center was identified. With much pride, the Confluence Arts Center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2018, followed closely by the plans to open an events and a convention center.
Our next stop, Revival Records. Nostalgia hit the 360 team as we wandered through the endless isles, sifting through countless vinyls. This is the place to find tracks that take you back to your childhood or introduce you to a brand-new genre. Each year the store commissions an artist to create a poster that will go for sale on National Record Store Day, which falls on April twenty-first this year.
The theme of collaboration rings through the events, partnerships and businesses in Eau Claire. Our final stop in Eau Claire was The Classic Garage. What was once an auto repair garage, is now a classic 50’s diner decorated by timeless trimmings such as black and white checkered flooring and red and white booths. Rick Peyton’s Cadillac collection is rotated around the shop so that “Rick’s classic Cadillac of the day” is showcased underneath the canopy. Visiting this family friendly locale is a must when in Eau Claire.
As we concluded our tour, we left happy with an enlightened sense of what community is. Eau Claire works hard as a community focusing on innovation, encouraging established and new artists, modernizing their thinking and yet still preserving their values and Midwest Indie culture. It’s no doubt that they are forging their way into a great present and a fantastic future.
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