Some might call it dumb luck; others, impressive prescience. But when I think about the news of recent months—labor controversy in Madison, school budget cuts around the state, nagging joblessness on a local and national level, and nuclear reactor problems in Japan—I am amazed at the timeliness and comprehensiveness of what our humble nonprofit organization has to offer:
As debate heated up over proposed changes in labor law in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Academy's James Watrous Gallery in the Overture Center premiered an impressive exhibition by six notable photographers who were hired through the statefunded Wisconsin Arts Board's Percent for Art Program to create a contemporary portrait of workers from every part of the state. Though this poignant meditation on the value and diversity of work and workers was planned in the spring of 2010, it couldn't have opened at a more opportune time. In addition to bringing artists together to talk about their work, the exhibition reception brought together the current and former Governor's Cabinet Secretaries for Workforce Development to discuss their perspectives on the role of the arts in economic development.
With the unveiling of the proposed 2011-13 state budget, education reform made the front pages. And once again, the Wisconsin Academy was in the right place at the right time with its threepart Education is Fundamental series. Education historian and author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System Diane Ravitch attracted more than a thousand people to her talk and broke the record at UW-Extension for live webcast viewing (we had another 5,400 people download the podcast of this timely event in the following two weeks alone). An education administrator's panel and Wisconsin Center for Education Research director Adam Gamoran followed up Ravitch's presentation to round out the series. Gamoran's data indicated that small gains—both in overall achievement in math and reading and also in reducing achievement gaps between black and white students—have been made since the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. At the same time, these improvements fall short of goals. Targeting resources for the tutoring of low-income students is one way to help make education more equitable.
Job creation is a topic on the minds of many Wisconsin citizens and in February of this year we hosted a conversation with Don Nichols (emeritus UW-Madison professor of economics) and John Torinus (Chairman of Serigraph Inc., West Bend, and founder of BizStarts Milwaukee) to see where our best prospects lie. We learned that most of Wisconsin's prospects depend on the national economy and that many job-creation strategies of thelast forty years have proven largely ineffective. Yet, promise was shown if we invest in entrepreneurs and industry clusters—such as papermaking, food and agriculture, medical infomatics, and biotech—that can contribute to net new jobs. A larger emphasis on innovation suggests more investment in research and the need to create a skilled workforce, thus making Chancellor Martin's and the UW System Regents' proposals to help higher education operate more competitively all the more important.
Last October, an Academy Evenings conversation was devoted to current and future energy solutions. Michael Corradini, the Wisconsin Distinguished Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Engineering Physics at UW-Madison, gave our audience information that equipped them to better understand the future promise of nuclear energy and to process the events associated with the current Fukushima Dai-Ichi reactor problems in Japan. As is often the case, we learn from the community that attends these public forums as well as from the presenters. A member of the audience who served on the committee that recommended the current U.S. policy of storing spent fuel rather than reprocessing it (as they do in France and other countries), explained to us that the United States had hoped that other nations would also securely store their spent fuel in order to keep the hazardous material from falling into the wrong hands. It just goes to show that the exchange of knowledge at these Academy Evenings is a two-way street.
And we're not done yet. With gas prices reaching recent highs, public and pundit attention has again turned to fossil fuel alternatives. So, we're bringing Timothy Donohue, the director of the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at UW-Madison, to speak on 2050 Biofuels and Other Sustainable Energy Sources in Sheboygan. The future of our inland and Great Lakes waterways will be the topic of the final Academy Evenings presentation of our season, featuring prominent researchers from both UW-Milwaukee and UW-La Crosse.
The focus of my work at the Wisconsin Academy for the past four years has been to apply the best knowledge the state has on solutions to our common problems. And I am proud that we have met every major news story with important lectures, magazine articles, and exhibitions. If you have missed any of these valuable opportunities for engagement, don't worry. Many are archived on our website at wisconsinacademy.org.
Have a wonderful spring of new growth in both garden and thought.