Jane Elder recently retired from her position as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Academy. She brought to the Wisconsin Academy a strong background in public policy leadership, nonprofit management, and involvement in Wisconsin arts. Her career has focused on environmental policy and communications, while personal interests include theater, modern dance and painting. Jane was the founding director of the Sierra Club’s Great Lakes program, and led the organization’s Midwest Office for many years, spearheading advances in water quality, air quality, and public lands protection in the region. She was the first recipient of Sierra Club’s Michael McCloskey Award, which honors “a distinguished record of achievement in national or international conservation causes.”
Jane was also the founding director of the Biodiversity Project, a nationwide initiative to raise public awareness about the value of Earth’s diverse species, habitats, and ecosystems, and to promote responsive action to stem the tide of loss. This work included a project to explore the ethical and theological reasons for protecting biodiversity, and a groundbreaking communications handbook: Ethics for a Small Planet. In 2002 she received the Bay and Paul Foundations’ Biodiversity Leadership Award which recognizes and rewards efforts to protect biodiversity by researchers, scholars, and advocates.
During her years at Biodiversity Project, she was an active participant in the Wisconsin Academy’s landmark Leopold Legacy Conference and Waters of Wisconsin Conference. She also served as advisor to U.S. In the World, an initiative of the Rockefeller Brothers Foundation to build a broad, bipartisan constituency for pragmatic, principled, effective, and cooperative U.S. global engagement, and has served as a lead writer-researcher for the Presidential Climate Action Plan (under the auspices of the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Affairs), and led several projects related to advancing the goals of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and the U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.
An active supporter of, and participant in, Wisconsin arts, Jane served as an early member of the Friends of American Player’s Theater—a group that banded together to prevent the Theater’s closure in the 1980s. More recently she served as the founding board president for Forward Theater Company in Madison, and continues to serve on its board.
Jane holds a BA in Communications from Michigan State University, and a MS in Land Resources from the University of Wisconsin. She and her family have lived in Madison for more than thirty years.