If you’re yearning for a spring break escape but don’t have the time or budget for a major trip, consider heading to the Chippewa Valley to take in Sculpture Tour Eau Claire. Recently recognized as the largest rotating outdoor sculpture tour in the nation, the tour offers a major experience without major effort or expense. It encompasses more than 100 public art pieces installed at parks, along river walks, in front of local institutions, and along the streets of Eau Claire’s vibrant downtown, as well as key points in the neighboring communities of Menomonie and Altoona.
The sculptures cover a wide range of media and come in every shape imaginable, from the abstract forms that provoke thought to the whimsical pieces that evoke joy. The sculptures are up-close accessible and encourage interaction (just try walking by the high-fiving dog in Eau Claire’s Phoenix Park without rushing forward to press your palm against its paw).
Best of all, this abundance of high-quality artwork, all created by established artists, can be enjoyed at no cost, by all ages and abilities, at the viewer’s own pace, whenever the viewer so chooses. All that’s really needed are a map, available online or at select local businesses; some walking shoes; and a sense of adventure.
Eau Claire Energy Cooperative member Don Gaber’s intricate sculptures, made with reclaimed objects, are among the most popular along Sculpture Tour Eau Claire. They include a horse (above), located in Eau Claire, and a bear (left), installed in
(Photo above courtesy of Jolene Fisher, Dunn Energy Cooperative; photo left courtesy of Visit Eau Claire)
“That’s part of our mission: To make art accessible and to remove the socioeconomic barriers,” said Julie Pangallo, public arts manager with Visit Eau Claire and a member of Eau Claire Energy Cooperative. “We feel it’s very important to make art available. We know a lot of families use the art tour, a lot of schools use it as part of their art curriculum, it provides a sense of community pride, and it gives us a chance to show inclusion.”
Adding to the appeal of the tour is that it never stays still. With the sculptures changed out annually and new installations constantly added, Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is a different experience each year.
Art from All Over
Sculpture Tour Eau Claire has grown steadily since it was launched in 2010 with just 12 sculptures. Pangallo explained the tour was started by a couple who had moved to Eau Claire from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where a similar sculpture tour was already in place.
Eau Claire partnered with Sioux Falls and a few other cities to form a sculpture exchange where each community could tap into a network of artists to procure a wide variety of sculptures from different parts of the country.
“It’s like a draft,” Pangallo explained. “We get together once a year and look at what’s in the market and what’s available, and about a third of our sculptures come from that. That really got us started and gave us a good foundation. It introduced us to a lot of our artists and made us able to offer art from around the country and Canada as well.”
Other pieces are solicited from local artists, who are encouraged to submit their own sculptures for consideration. Selected pieces are essentially “on loan” for a year from the artists, who receive a stipend. The sculptures are on display for 11 months and taken down in April to make way for the pieces installed for new the season that begins in May. When the sculptures are removed, they’re placed back into the exchange for consideration by the other partnering communities.
One piece from each season is added to the community’s permanent collection. The public is invited to cast votes for their favorite sculpture each summer, with the top vote-getter receiving the People’s Choice award. Sculpture Tour Eau Claire, a non-profit organization, purchases the People’s Choice winner each year and gifts it to the city of Eau Claire. Menomonie’s portion of the tour has a similar People’s Choice award system.
However, it’s not just the People’s Choice winner that finds a buyer; the tour has proven to be an effective vehicle for sales for the participating artists. “Since the program has started we’ve sold over 40 sculptures,” Pangallo said. “It’s really a good gallery for the artists.”
For the public as well. Pangallo pointed out that for many people, especially families, visiting an art gallery can be either intimidating or costprohibitive. Sculpture Tour Eau Claire turns the city into a great, outdoor gallery that families can enjoy together for free.
Are you an artist with an interest in participating in the largest rotating sculpture tour in the nation? Sculpture Tour Eau Claire wants to hear from you! To learn more about submitting your artwork for consideration for the 2023/24 Sculpture Tour, please visit https://www.visiteauclaire.com/sculpture-tour/call-to-artists/
Over the years, Sculpture Tour Eau Claire has continued to grow, even—in fact, especially—through the pandemic. During that time, interest in the tour boomed since it was an outdoor activity people could enjoy safely, but some of the sponsorships that had helped support it dried up. That’s when the city’s tourism arm, Visit Eau Claire, stepped in to manage the program.
“Visit Eau Claire opened the doors to us for a lot of resources that we didn’t have before,” Pangallo said. “It’s helped us grow exponentially. In one year, we became the largest rotating art tour in the nation.”
Some of that growth is due to added partnerships, with four new sculptures recently installed in the River Prairie area in Altoona and six installed in key areas in
Because Menomonie’s sculptures were installed late last summer, five of the original six will remain in place for an additional year so the public can fully enjoy them, with two or three additional sculptures to be installed this season. Tammy Simon, tourism manager
for the Menomonie Area Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber plans to have a map of all the public art sites in Menomonie, including the murals (see sidebar), available this summer.
While Sculpture Tour Eau Claire has benefitted from being part of Visit Eau Claire, numbers show that the area’s tourism has in turn gotten a boost from the sculpture tour. Pangallo said Sculpture Tour Eau Claire is Visit Eau Claire’s most inquired-about event, and the tour’s link on the website draws the greatest number of clicks. Sculpture
Tour Eau Claire is intertwined with many of the city’s popular attractions, with the sculptures often reflecting or complementing the businesses or areas they’re placed in front of. Consequently, the tour provides plenty of opportunities for fun side excursions
to the interesting restaurants, shops, museums, and parks along its path.
Simon describes a similar experience in Menomonie, citing the sculpture in front of the Rassbach Museum, home to Dunn County’s Historical Society, as an example. That sculpture is one of three pieces on the tour created by Don Gaber, who works with reclaimed items at his studio outside of Mondovi, on Eau Claire Energy Cooperative lines.
“It’s a bear that’s made out of found items,” Simon said. “There’s a parking meter in there, there’s some suncatchers in there, there’s some bottles from the Coca Cola factory that used to be in Eau Claire, so it’s a very historical piece. It brings people out to the museum. People come to see that bear, which has turned out to be one of the most popular sculptures we have.”
Come Together by Alex Mendez and Story Hour by Sandra Johnson
EggCited by Kimber Fiebiger and New Life by Brian Para
Encore by Harold Link and Double Trouble by Scott Schlag
Photos courtesy of Visit Eau Claire except for ‘EggCited’, courtesy of Jolene Fisher, Dunn Energy Cooperative.
Come see the sculptures—and their surroundings—for yourself. The experience is sure to put some spring in your step.—Mary Erickson
For more information about Sculpture Tour, including a downloadable map and a list of businesses where paper maps are available, visit www.visiteauclaire.com/sculpture-tour/ or call 715-831-2345. To learn more about the Menomonie portion of the sculpture tour, visit https://exploremenomonie.com/sculpture-tour/ or call 715-235-9087.