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Focus on the Future

Focus on the Future
From the Director

Living in these turbulent times, many of us seek a space where civil discussion is the status quo, a place where substantive ideas—rather than personality or political spin—are the norm rather than exception.

As a statewide organization, the Wisconsin Academy has been providing these kinds of spaces for the last 141 years.Since 1870, when these spaces for public engagement included salons, symposia, and the scientific journal Transactions, to today's Academy Evenings discussion forums, James Watrous Gallery, and Wisconsin People & Ideas magazine, we've provided the places citizens join together to examine the challenges of our times, suggest solutions, and look at the world in new ways. It's not all work, of course. Through our programs we also celebrate Wisconsin's human, cultural and natural resources. It's in these ways that the Wisconsin Academy connects people and ideas for a better Wisconsin.

Certainly, we can always make the state even better. Right?

To this end, the Wisconsin Academy is improving its digital space to enhance connections and public access to the people and ideas that are working to make our state better, too. You might wonder how a strategic focus on improving our digital platform to improve access to all our programs will better fulfill our statewide mission. Well, we have in mind much more than a simple website makeover:

  1. Adoption of new software and the purchase of digital equipment will allow us to capture and distribute lecture and gallery programs in long- and short-form video, thereby extending the life of past programs and expanding broader access to our acclaimed lectures, exhibitions, Fellows inductions, public policy projects, and artists talks.
  2. New website technology will allow us to amplify interconnections across the sciences, arts, and letters that lie at the core of our approach to society challenges by making our content more searchable and meaningful.
  3. New technology will allow for ongoing conversations cumulating meaning beyond the initial events.
  4. New technologies can also promote the generation and sharing of new digital content by Wisconsin Academy members. Possible projects include crowd-sourcing ideas for Academy Evenings discussions, hosting interviews with Wisconsin Academy Fellows, augmenting Wisconsin People & Ideas articles with additional member-generated content and commentary, and interviewing James Watrous Gallery artists in their studios and highlighting new artistic processes. The possibilities are endless.  

The best part is that a new digital platform will be more easily navigable and content rich, providing multiple opportunities for Internet users of all skill levels. A new content management system will also improve our calendar function, making our lectures, discussions, gallery exhibitions, and other events even easier to locate.

Finally, digital technology, by its very nature facilitates the use of surveys and allows for concrete measures to evaluate the value of content. Our website receives 325,000 unique visits a year, and our Academy Evenings discussion forums have been viewed by over 30,000 people. About 6,200 receive our monthly e-newsletter. If you want to enhance your access to the Wisconsin Academy's digital offerings and receive digital communications that remind you about upcoming events, please send your e-mail address to Jason A. Smith at

These changes will not happen overnight. But by the end of this year you will notice many improvements, thanks to a grant from the Sally Mead Hands Foundation and the support of the Boldt Company. If you wish to help by bringing your web or video expertise or connections to this initiative please let me know. We would like to give all our programs the statewide reach they merit.

In the meantime, watch for the new fall programming schedule on the current website at, beginning with a special day-long Academy Evenings series entitled "Perspectives on a Post-9/11 World" to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, September 11, 2011. We hope to see you there and at our many other events this fall in Madison and Milwaukee.

Best regards,

Margaret Lewis

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Margaret Lewis was the executive director of the Wisconsin Academy from 2007 to 2011. For twelve years she served as Assistant, Associate and Acting Vice-President of University Relations for the University of Wisconsin System.

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1922 University Avenue
Madison, Wisconsin 53726
Phone: 608.733.6633


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3rd Floor, Overture Center for the Arts
201 State Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608.733.6633 x25