In 1964, arts education pioneer Robert E. Gard founded the weeklong School of the Arts program in Rhinelander. Beginning with fifty students and six writing instructors, the School of the Arts grew in scope and vision, leveraging the resources of UW–Madison to create a supportive learning environment for hundreds of regional artists, actors, musicians, and writers.
Due to changes in the state budget and the structure of UW System, the UW–Madison Division of Continuing Studies held the last School of the Arts in the summer of 2015, ending a fifty-year tradition of inspiring and cultivating local artists, projects, and organizations.
A group of locals—business owners and public educators, artists and art lovers—who were inspired by the School of the Arts, decided to create a new program designed to strengthen and sustain the Rhinelander community through cultural events and visual art exhibitions. The group established ArtStart in 2011, and set to work transforming the historic downtown Federal Building into an arts and culture destination.
“Support of the community is a good testament to the strength of an organization,” says ArtStart development director Melinda Childs. “Often small town arts centers are created by someone with money who wants it. But to be grown in a grass roots way financially, and with sweat equity put into it increases the chance at longevity, because it’s wanted and loved and needed.”
Today, with the support of the Robert E. Gard Foundation and the Division of Continuing Studies, ArtStart is keeping the School of the Arts flame alive through a spectrum of arts-based classes for both children and adults. In addition, ArtStart hosts regular group and solo exhibitions from local and regional artists as well as film screenings, music and dance recitals, and other programs designed to bring the community together through art.