“Paint the County!” brightens downtown Amherst and more

The barn at Fernwood Acres on Hwy. 54 features lines from a poem by former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Diane Sweet.

The Amherst area recently saw the installation of two new murals as part of “Paint the County!” Create Portage County’s New-Deal-inspired program that is putting artists impacted by COVID-19 to work painting murals.

In late July and early August, Erin LaBonte and David Carpenter of Manitowoc completed a project on the façade of Falcon One Stop in downtown Amherst, while Christopher Sweet of Reedsburg completed a project on the Fernwood Acres barn on Highway 54. Both projects are part of a partnership with the Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission and Arts Midwest that is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment through new pieces of public art.

These pieces integrate inspirational quotes written by female leaders who represent marginalized communities. The Falcon One Stop mural uses text from Malala Yousafzai’s quote, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful.” The Fernwood Acres project incorporates lines of an original poem written for this occasion by former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Diane Sweet.

In total, “Paint the County!” will install 13 murals in Amherst, Almond, Rosholt, Junction City, and Stevens Point and will pay out more than $75,000 in stipends to artists living in or with connections to Central Wisconsin.

Early data showed that the arts were among the sectors most impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. By the fall of 2020, Americans for the Arts had already estimated a $9.1 billion economic hit to the industry with nearly two-thirds of artists unemployed and 95% seeing a reduction in employment, contributing to an average of $24,000 of lost yearly revenue per artist in 2020.

Create Executive Director Greg Wright said, “The Create Board of Directors felt a strong responsibility to support artists at this time. In addition to honoring our existing contracts with performing artists, we saw an opportunity to design a project specific to this moment.”

The project has goals beyond economic impact as well. “Paint the County!” aims to make space for underrepresented voices to be more visible in our community; to draw people to new, important, or under-activated spaces; to strengthen neighborhoods and commercial districts; and to spread its creative identity to all parts of Portage County.

“We love the creative energy that has taken over Portage County,” Wright added. “If we want to sustain this building momentum, we have to be creative in our support at this unusual time.”

Those interested can find information about all the murals in this project, including maps of their locations, at createportagecounty.org/paintthecounty. In hopes of continuing the project, Create is also seeking new locations for potential 2022 installations. Feel free to share your ideas at info@createportagecounty.org.

To learn more about Create or to contribute in support of projects like this, visit createportagecounty.org.

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