The city of Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire each faced the daunting task of rebuilding their own aging theaters. In other communities and at other times the university and city may have sought funding to rebuild separate theaters. In Eau Claire in 2012, the city, local arts groups, the university and others made a difference choice.
Eau Claire’s aptly named Confluence Center, stands as a physical testament to the power of collaboration, cooperation and coordination. The $80 million arts center came out of the shared efforts of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), the city, local arts nonprofits, arts advocates and the state. The confluence of all these different groups and interests enabled the creation of a building and a space that is far greater than any of them could have envisioned separately.
The city of Eau Claire and the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire each faced the daunting task of rebuilding their own aging theaters. Rather than going it alone and pursuing funding to rebuild separate theaters, the city, local arts groups, the university and others made a difference choice. The Confluence Center, slated to open in the summer of 2018 will house “1,200‐seat theatre and a flexible 400-seat theatre, rehearsal, dance and community rooms; visual arts studio and galleries, labs for sound and lighting, set and exhibit design, recording arts, multimedia production and costume design; administrative offices for management, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire faculty” and a nearby 400-student dorm – the first and only UWEC dorm in downtown Eau Claire.
Not that long ago such a collaboration would have been seen as unlikely, at best, or impossible at worst.
In 2005, the City of Eau Claire engaged the National Civic League to help facilitate a resident-led strategic visioning process for the community. Residents and community leaders came together to identify key challenges, capacities and aspirations for their community.
The process known as Clear Vision Eau Claire, which gave rise to a nonprofit of the same name, revealed a need for greater community-wide cooperation and collaboration, particularly among local arts groups. At that time residents lamented that “All the art centers in the region are vying for the same funding and consequently don’t work together,” and that they wanted to work toward a vision where: “Nonprofits communicate with each other and work better together toward a community common good – not just their own.”
As City Manager Dale Peters explains, “The roots of this goes back to Clear Vision… That’s where the seeds were planted. This is where citizens said what this community needs – ‘We need the arts to come together, we need cooperation and collaboration.’”
Not only did the Clear Vision process surface these critical concerns, but the process brought together the very parties and leaders who years later would spearhead the Confluence Center effort. Peters reflected that Clear Vision brought together key people from “from the arts, city, and university” and “If those people had not been in the room at Clear Vision it [the Confluence Center] wouldn’t have worked.”