Walls Of Wittenberg
Where one person's vision becomes a community's passion..
Wittenberg suffers many of the usual ills of a small rural burg: businesses folding in downtown, leaving empty decaying buildings and decreased traffic because of a Highway 29 bypass.
Nonetheless, there are many positives: a core of residents with pride in where they live, a friendly atmosphere and a few solid employers. One key in revitalization is to bring visitors into the community.
The spark for new direction came from Lois Smith, widow of Darwin Smith, CEO of Kimberly-Clark from 1971 to 1991. She lived on a 800 acre farm just outside of town, loved Wittenberg and wanted to see it thrive.
She visited Lake Placid, Florida, a similar town with identical problems and saw what adding 30 murals had done there for tourism and businesses and brought this idea back to Wittenberg.
In the summer of 2005, a group of interested residents came together and created Walls of Wittenberg, Inc., a 501-c-3 organization whose mission is "to bring out the beauty and unique character of the Wittenberg area in a way that revitalizes the downtown, honors the history of the area, and attracts visitors."
Together, this group, open to any interested individual, has supported the painting of more than 27 murals. Private contributions and local fund-raising have paid for the murals. Business owners are asking to have a mural on their walls.
An artist's committee searches for artists to execute the murals, designs being approved by WOW, Inc. and the owner.
Collaboration with the Wittenberg-Birnamwood School system has involved students in three projects thus far and further opportunities are routinely looked for.
In addition to the murals, Joe and Kathy Gwidt donated their former drugstore to the Walls of Wittenberg, Inc. in 2006. Today, the WOWSPACE is an elegant site for art shows, concerts and community events. Paid staff and hundreds of hours from community volunteers have achieved these handsome results. Extremely generous private contributions made this possible.
An Art Park complements the elegance of the WOWSPACE. In 2010, 5 new sculptures, all privately funded, have been added as well as extensive landscaping. Stroll through the park--admire "Soaring Spirit," and the new additions: the silly long legs of "Zoe," the kaleidoscope of color of "Recycled Rising Sun," the intense blue drama of "We Move with Conviction," as well as "The Pavilion" and "Cubes of Truth." 2011 saw the addition of "Vincent van Frogh," Art Park resident artist.
Will the mural project "save" Wittenberg? We don't know; however, already the murals have brought visitors, a 24/7 art gallery, and a new sense of community pride.