arts & culture

The Big Idea


Four Big Ideas That Changed the Fox Cities


FCM- The Big Idea

Sometimes we take our greatest assets for granted.

“I just drive it. I don’t think about it,” says John Bubolz, chairman of the citizens committee that lobbied the state to fund and build the Tri-County Expressway, now known as Wisconsin Trunk Highway 441.

Every day, Fox Cities’ residents benefit from similar community assets without giving them a second thought. Assets like Highway 441, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, the Fox River Mall and Outagamie County Regional Airport have changed the way we work and play.

They are big ideas that changed the Fox Cities.

Tri County Expressway/441

If Highway 441 didn’t directly spur the growth many Fox Cities communities experienced the past three decades, then it was the artery that made that growth easier.

The few minutes it takes to zip from community to community along the highway is hardly enough time to realize that many people never thought the roadway would amount to more than a dream. Yet without it, much of the residential and commercial growth in the eastern areas of the Fox Cities may not have happened.

“It provided the access we needed,” says Eric Fowle, executive director of the East Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. “There was a lot of land near that corridor that was just sitting there. It created the access and opportunity for development.”

It was 20 years ago, 1993, what is now known as Highway 441 was completed and opened from end to end. It’s been more than 30 years since some of the first elements such as the Roland Kampo bridge opened and began to better connect the Fox Cities.

The highway now handles as many as 70,000 vehicles a day during peak traffic times and is considered an essential element of northeast Wisconsin’s highway infrastructure. Not bad for a road the state did not want to build.

“I had one meeting where I was told we should just give the land back to the farmers,” said Michael Marsden, the former Outagamie County Highway Commissioner who worked more than 20 years on the project. “We just kept plugging away at it.”

Highway 441 can be traced back to a big idea from the early 1960s, when a transportation plan for the region first marked out the “Tri-County Expressway,” and local communities preserved the roadway corridor by including it in the official street maps.

From there, things moved slowly, though steadily, as communities along the route acquired right-of-way and commissioned additional planning studies. In 1975, the Roland Kampo Bridge opened, and by 1979 a citizens group formed to coordinate lobbying efforts to get the state to participate in the project.

“It took longer to get it funded than it did to actually build it,” recalls Bubolz.

Supporters argued the roadway would save time, money and lives by improving traffic flow through the Fox Cities and taking traffic off of an already crowded Highway 41. Armed with the slogan “If you were driving on the Tri-County Expressway, you’d be there by now.” the group eventually got local buy-in, then brought the state onboard.

In 1984, Wisconsin designated the Tri-County as a major highway funding project, and in 1985 placed it on the state trunk system as Highway 441. By 1986 the project has been added to the state’s six-year plan for funding and first construction work began in 1988.

The highway was completed in 1993. The state is now planning upgrades to many sections to handle the volume of traffic using the highway on a daily basis.

““There is no doubt it made the Fox Cities the dynamic community it is today,” Bubolz said. “It’s been a boon to our community.”

Fox Cities Performing Arts Center

FCM - The Big Idea - Fox Cities Performing Arts CenterOscar Boldt clearly remembers the phone call he took on a spring day in 1999.

The question posed was a theoretical one, but loaded: can you build a performing arts center in downtown Appleton by 2002? He recalls saying it was technically possible, but questioning whether enough money could be raised in time to pay the costs.

Three years and nearly $50 million in contributions later, including the $8 million gift from Aid Associate for Lutherans, now Thrivent, that sparked the campaign, the curtains of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center raised for the inaugural performance, a concert by Tony Bennett.

That event marked so much more than the completion of an ambitious project, it also ushered in a new era of downtown revitalization, with the PAC as a crown jewel attraction bringing people and disposable income into the Fox Cities.

“It was really a concerted effort by a lot of people that created a cultural mecca that makes people want to come to downtown Appleton,” Boldt says. “It’s made the downtown an interesting place to go.”

Now in its 11th year, the PAC continues to play a central role in a resurgent downtown that includes an eclectic mix of retail, office space, restaurants, a new hotel and additional cultural attractions such as the Appleton Building for the Arts and Houdini Square.

Recent economic studies attribute $17.8 million in annual economic activity to the PAC, which helps to fuel the ongoing transformation of downtown Appleton.

“It really anchors the district,” says Jennifer Stephany, the executive director for Appleton

Downtown Inc. “It’s been the catalyst for a series of improvements.”

In addition to the dollars, the PAC has helped change the demographics of who plays and lives in the downtown area. More than 44 percent of the patrons the venue attracts come from outside the Fox Cities Area. Downtown now attracts more than revelers in their early 20s. Baby boomers have returned, some with an eye on downtown living, Stephany says.

Downtown supporters say the PAC may prove to be the spark that ignited the downtown’s evolution toward what is being called the creative economy, which attracts not only artisans and galleries, but creative professions such as architects, web designers, marketing and public relations professionals and programmers.

It’s also helped renew a sense of place that makes events such as Mile of Music possible.

“I love what’s happened with our downtown,” says Maria Van Laanen, executive vice president of the Fox Cities PAC. “I think the PAC has become an icon for investment and the value people here place on arts and community.”

Outagamie County Regional Airport

FCM - The Big Idea - Outagamie AirportIf the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center is the area’s cultural and creative window to the world, then Outagamie County Regional Airport is the door through which those people and ideas pass.

While less a project and more a long term investment, the airport has played an important role in supporting the region’s economy as both a hub of activity for tenants as well as supporting easy access for those doing business with and for businesses here.

“It’s been a central generator of economic activity on its own, but if we didn’t have it, I’m not sure that some of the companies here now would have their headquarters here or be involved at the same level,” says Karen Harkness, economic development director for the city of Appleton.

It could have turned out much differently. When Outagamie County was developing plans for a new airport in the early 1960s, it approached Winnebago County about developing a shared facility. Winnebago County nixed the idea, having invested heavily in the Oshkosh Regional Airport.

In 1965, Outagamie County sited the airport in Greenville, and it has been growing steadily since, becoming one of the state’s busiest airports in terms of combined passengers and commercial activities. It trails only the Milwaukee and Madison airports in terms of cargo handled, according to the State of Wisconsin Aviation Activity Reports for 2012, and is fourth in the state for passenger traffic behind those two airports and Green Bay.

In addition to passengers and cargo, the airport has become a prime area for industrial and commercial development, best represented by the growing Gulfstream operation located there, which in the past year has added nearly 100 new jobs. The airport and Fox Valley Technical College recently announced the addition of a $30 million safety training center for the airport grounds.

A recent economic impact report by the Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics determined the airport’s direct economic impact on Outagamie County is nearly $300 million annually. The state is currently updating those figures for 2013.

The airport is a vital organ in the economic health of the region, especially for industries that need easy access both into the region or connecting to other parts of the country, says Appleton Mayor Timothy Hannah. Having an airport close has helped them succeed and kept them from relocating to other regions.

The airport has also been a cradle of economic development he says, noting that both Midwest Express and Wisconsin Air started at the airport.

Now, it’s the growth of Gulfstream and the partnership with FVTC for a safety training center.

“Gulfstream may not be well- known, but they employ a huge workforce for the region,” Hannah says. “People from all over the world come here to pick up their airplanes.”

Fox River Mall

FCM - The Big Idea - Fox River MailMany expected the Fox River Mall would kill downtown Appleton.

When developers first announced their plans to build a new indoor shopping mall in the Appleton area, many community leaders lobbied for a downtown location for fear the mall would pull shoppers out of the stores there and leave the downtown barren.

Today, nearly 30 years later, both are thriving, no doubt at least in part because of the 16 million shopper visits Fox River Mall attracts to the Appleton area each year.

“It’s given us a brand and made us a destination for shoppers,” says Pam Seidl, executive irector of the Fox Cities Convention and Visitors Bureau. “In the end, both have flourished. It’s created an opportunity for the complimentary and specialty retail we find downtown.”

The CVB has long capitalized on the mall’s attraction, billing the Appleton area as “Wisconsin’s Shopping Destination.” It has the ability to attract shoppers from more than 150 miles away who are willing to stay overnight.

That attraction has helped power the development of thousands of feet of retail space in Grand Chute and the surrounding area, as well helped draw folks to the area’s other entertainment and cultural attractions.

“The mall has become a great regional draw that has contributed to the great regional growth we have seen in this area,” says John Burgland, senior general manager.

Burgland agreed the mall draws from an exceptionally large area, up to 200 miles away in some cases, which has made it a truly “super regional” attraction.

“But people don’t just come for the mall,” Burgland says. “While they are here, there are plenty of great things for them to do.”


10 Ways to Help Local Non Profits

1. Use Your Checkbook

Making a donation to a charity by writing a check is still the most common form of philanthropy in the world. It is relatively simple and certainly direct.

2. Give Through a Donor-Advised Fund

Making a donation through donor-advised funds is becoming more popular. Donor-advised funds are charitable giving accounts offered by a sponsoring organization that are designed as an accessible, simple, and less expensive alternative to private foundations.

3. Set Up a Private or Family Foundation

Some high net-worth donors, and families, set up private family foundations to make their donation. Although some private foundations are large and well known (the Rockefeller Foundation, for example), with matching staffs, most of the approximately eighty thousand private foundations are unstaffed, and two thirds of them have less than $1 million in assets. Your own foundation is the best way to make sure your donation is totally matched to your values and interests.

4. Join a Giving Circle
If you've ever belonged to a book or investment club, then you know the basics of a giving circle. Giving circles are relatively new to the philanthropic scene but are gaining ground rapidly. Making your donation through a giving circle is both fun and practical.
How to Maximize Your Donation Through A Giving Circle

5. Find Intermediaries

If you are concerned about making a donation to a particular issue, or even a geographic area, you may want to seek out intermediaries that are working specifically on that issue or in that locale. Making your donation through a trusted group that knows a cause inside and out can be reassuring.

6. Give Online

Giving online is often called micro-philanthropy, the beauty of which is that donors of modest means, in the aggregate, can make a big difference. Online giving is still not the main way that donors give, but it is the fastest growing method.

7. Donate Your Car, Food, or Clothing

Donating your old car could be just the trick to get it out of your driveway and to do some good. Don't forgot about donating other things too, such as furniture, appliances, food, and clothing. Food pantries and thrift shops have more needs than ever, due to the poor economy.

8. Give Your Time

Volunteering doesn't cost you a dime, and it is really the "in" thing to do these days. More volunteers than ever, in all age groups and from all backgrounds, are finding their way to causes that inspire them. Whether you have one hour a week or one day a year to give, use our tips to help you find your perfect volunteer opportunity.

9. Give Your Stocks

Do good and get a tax deduction as well? Donating stocks could allow you to give more than otherwise to your favorite cause. Any appreciated asset can be donated, such as stocks, real estate, bonds, mutual funds, or real estate investment trusts.

10. Donate Your Skills.

Have a specialized skill such as accounting? You can help by preparing tax forms, financial statements or auditing the books.

Why Arts Should be Considered a Basic Need

John Mielke hears it all the time that basic needs should come before the arts when it comes to prioritizing dollars.

It’s not that he disagrees - he understands that basic needs are important. The problem, he says, is that we have too narrowly defined what constitutes a basic need. Dr. Mielke sees the debate in his role on the Appleton Area School Board and as a long time advocate of the arts in the Fox Cities.

With participation in the arts a critical component of creative problem solving, he thinks it’s time to change the terms of the debate.

“We really need to expand the definition of basic needs,” Mielke says. “If we don’t have art, we will always be paying more money to solve problems that could have been prevented.”

In Mielke’s mind, exposure to the arts should start in early childhood - which he will even define as pre-natal - and continue throughout their formative years. He points to the links between arts and mathematics or arts and problem solving and is convinced it is a cost-effective solution to many of society’s problems.

“When we concentrate the effort upstream, when kids are young, it doesn’t cost all that much,” he says. “We know that it can affect everything else we do. Isn’t that a basic need?”

The Stores of Christmas

FCM - Pullout - November - DT for the HolidaysStrains of “Silver Bells” may be ringing in your ears if you spend some time in downtown Appleton this month.

The city sidewalks will definitely be dressed in holiday style as downtown stores and Downtown Appleton Inc. kick off the shopping season with their Downtown for the Holidays event.
Downtown for the Holidays is an event for the entire family, with plenty to do for children and lots of shopping for the adults. There will be Christmas carolers, visits with Santa, crafts and cookie baking with
Mrs. Clause.

“The theme is a Story Book Christmas, so it should be a lot of fun for the kids." says Anne Weigman, marketing director of Downtown Appleton Inc. Shops will provide sales to help make holiday shopping satisfying for their customers.

Each shop participating in the event will be part of a window decorating contest, and shoppers can vote for their favorite on the Appleton Downtown Facebook page. There will also be opportunities to make a donation to the Salvation Army. Any donation made, Downtown Appleton Inc. and participating businesses will match.

The downtown shopping event provides a different shopping experience that cannot be found anywhere else. Downtown for the Holidays runs Nov. 16–Dec. 24.

The Baking Boss

FCM - Pullout - November - BuddyThe Boss is taking over the Weidner Center.

The Cake Boss, aka celebrity baker Buddy Valastro, will be making a stop in Green Bay on Nov. 20 as part of his Family Celebrations tour.

Audience members will have the opportunity to hear the TLC star’s baking secrets and family stories as part of a live, interactive event.

“Buddy is hilarious. He’s just a funny person,” says Joanna Brumley of the Cake Boss. Brumley is the marketing coordinator for Mills Entertainment, the company producing Family Celebrations. “You get behind the scenes stories about his family, about the TV show, a more in-depth story about Buddy that you really wouldn’t get otherwise.”

During the performance, Valastro will give demonstrations of cake decorating techniques with help from the audience in what the Weidner Center calls “a high-energy experience for the whole family.”

“People will get to see Buddy in person, doing what he does best,” Brumley says of the show.  Brumley explains that during multiple parts of the show, the Cake Boss will bring different groups of “lucky folks” (including kids, moms, dads and couples) to the stage to participate in competitive games and decorating demos.

The Cake Boss’s fourth book, Family Celebrations with the Cake Boss, will be released Nov. 5. VIP ticket holders will receive a signed copy of this latest book and participate in a meet-and-greet after the show.

Visit to learn more about The Cake Boss Family Celebrations tour.

Holidays on the March

FCM - Pullout - Holiday ParadeThe imagery of childhood will burst to life this year during Appleton’s downtown Christmas parade when characters from beloved storybooks dance forth to warm the hearts of the young and young-at-heart.

The 43rd Annual Downtown Appleton Christmas Parade is the Midwest’s largest
nighttime parade and attracts people from across the region. This year, the parade is expected to attract more than 80,000 attendees and 100,000 television viewers, making it one of the biggest events of the season.

Among this year’s estimated 80 parade entrants, viewers will enjoy floats, decorated vehicles, walking units & animal entries all centered on this year’s theme: “A Storybook Christmas”.

Some of the year-to-year favorite entries are the balloons and the Vic
Ferrari Band, says Parade Chairman Greg Otis. However, he says, with
such a magical theme, all of the entries are sure to delight.

Immediately following the parade will be the Annual City of Appleton Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in City Park. The tradition, sponsored by Appvion, Inc., will take place at approximately 7:45 p.m. The Concert
Singers from Appleton West High School will sing Christmas carols and live reindeer will accompany Santa and Mrs. Claus as they hand out candy canes to the children.

When asked for advice on claiming a spot on the sidewalk, Otis laughed. He did point out, though, that anyone looking to stake a claim cannot do so before noon the day of the parade and must stay with the chairs, etc. they mark their place with.

The Christmas Parade take place on November 26 starting at 6:20pm, following the Santa Scamper at 6pm.

Flashdance at the PAC

FCM - November - FlashdanceThe popular 80's dance flick Flashdance celebrates 30 years of inspiration with an onstage musical that opens Nov. 12 at the Fox Cities Performing
Arts Center.
Adapted from the movie, the musical closely follows the story of young Alex Owens, a welder at a Pittsburgh steel mill and bar dancer by night, who aspires to become a professional dancer. The musical incorporates new songs and dance sequences to attract new fans as well.
"You'll walk out singing the great songs from the movie," says Maria Van Laanen, executive vice president of the Fox Cities PAC. "Dance is really
the heart and soul of this musical."
The choreography from the new show was done by Sergio Trujillo, who also choreographed the musicals Memphis and Jersey Boys. The score includes original hit songs from the movie such as "Maniac", "I Love Rock & Roll" and "Flashdance… What a Feeling,”  plus an additional 16 songs created for the Broadway production.
Flashdance runs through November 17th. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2pm and 7:30pm and Sunday at 1pm and 6:30pm. Visit the
— by Ashley Ivansek

All Aboard for the Holidays

FCM- Pullout - November - Polar ExpressThe Polar Express isn’t just a train ride, Bob Lettenberger says, it’s an experience.

The National Railroad Museum’s annual production of The Polar Express brings the classic Christmas tale to life in a multi-faceted experience. Participants explore the Festival of Trees in the Lenfestey Center before the show. Children play Reindeer Games, including Mr. Snowman’s Big Snowball Toss, see the Hot Chocolate Dance and enjoy a cup of hot
chocolate before a dramatic reading of the original Polar Express book.

When the Polar Express itself is ready to leave the station, the conductor calls, “All aboard!” and participants join the train crew on an expedition to the North Pole. On board the train, the crew provides a host of entertainment including songs, pointing out sights, and handing out chocolates & sleigh bells for the children.

“It’s really just a neat, fun train ride for everyone to participate in,” Lettenberger says.

When the train arrives in the North Pole, each child will have the chance to visit Santa before he embarks on his trip around the world. The Polar Express is a massive undertaking for the National Railroad Museum. On Nov.  1, the entire staff and a host of volunteers spent the day unloading a full 53’ semi-trailer of decorations and using them to bring the Festival of Trees to life. On a single day when the shows are running, Lettenberger says there are 30–40 staff members working and the kitchen brews over 30 gallons of hot chocolate.

Unfortunately, the Polar Express has limited seats. Tickets go on sale on July 25 each year and for the 2013 season, the premium class tickets sold out in nine and a half hours.

“Circle July 25th, 2014 on your calendar in big red marker, because that’s when the tickets will go on sale and when you can grab them,” Lettenberger advises.

When asked what children love most about the program, Lettenberger struggled to pick one aspect.

“Coming somewhere in their pajamas, drinking hot chocolate. The train ride is a big deal and of course seeing Santa,” he says. “It’s just a really happy time.”

Visit to learn more about The Polar Express.

The Heart of Art in the Fox Cities


FCM - Heart of Art in the Fox Cities - October

Behind any thriving community exists a strong commitment to the arts that fosters dynamic creativity. This creativity flows through the Fox Cities as tenaciously as the Fox River.

Much like the river’s current, this driving force is not always seen on the surface, but is ever- present and responsible for unique ideas and cutting-edge innovation within the Fox Cities. It encourages free thought and enables expression of humanity.

The heart of this spirit can be found in the collaborative efforts behind the recently renamed Fox Cities Building for the Arts.

“We decided to change the name of the building to the Fox Cities Building for the Arts because it better represented what was going on in the building,” says Pamela Williams-Lime, Trout Museum of Art and Fox Cities Building for the Arts president, “[It] is more reflective of what is happening here and it’s a better way for us to communicate that to the community.”

The building, formerly known as The Reigel Building, The Appleton Art Center, and The Trout Museum of Art was recently rechristened The Fox Cities Building for the Arts and houses five of the Fox Valley’s most prominent arts organizations: Appleton Boychoir, Fox Valley Symphony, Makaroff Youth Ballet, newVoices (formerly White Heron Chorale) and the Trout Museum of Art.

“When the Appleton Art Center became the Trout Museum of Art, a lot of the local community just looked at it as a museum and didn’t really feel they needed to be involved in it anymore, [and that] it wasn’t a community group,” says Michelle Richeson, a local visual artist and Fox Cities Building for the Arts board member.

But the changes extend beyond a name change; new opportunities and more accessible space are in store for all five organizations.

“We are in the middle of a capital campaign to address the needs of all the organizations living in here,” says Williams-Lime.

Often forced to rent space to hold meetings, the organizations residing in the building are now able to use renovated office space on the third floor. The space includes a board room conducive to holding rehearsals, receptions and small performances.

Along with a revamped third floor, renovations to the fifth floor will take place to better address recently kick-started educational programming.

The name change and inter-group cooperation will also serve as a collaborative model for non-profit organizations.

“The capital campaign, in the process of changing from the Trout Museum to the Fox Cities Building for the Arts, was done intentionally to better serve both what we as a non-profit are trying to do, but also to help the other organizations as well,” says Williams-Lime. “We’re talking about a collaborative business model and collaboration between the organizations.”

Kathi Seifert, chairman of the board of the Fox Cities Building for the Arts, says this model will produce and encourage ideas that better define operations within non-profits, whether they are arts-related or not.

“If we work on how more effectively we can work together and share resources or learn from each other, utilizing the same resources could not only save money, [but] provide more efficiency for each and every one of the organizations,” says Seifert.

The increased efficiency and communication between the arts organizations within the building are expected to not only provide an example for other non-profits, but also allow for more joint projects that include multiple, or all, groups.

The Young Audiences Fine Arts Series, one of the first collaborative projects set to run from January through May, will involve all five organizations and aims to introduce families into all areas of the arts. Each organization in the building will stage a 40 minute interactive educational performance for audiences of young children and families. With each performance, audience members will also complete a hands-on arts project relevant to the presentation.

“It’s an example of where we’re looking to collaborate because each of our missions has a piece of education in it,” says Williams-Lime. “You find common threads and you make a bigger presentation instead of each organization programming independently.”

Seifert says more collaborative programs will help increase engagement in the arts by community members.

“The collaborative programming will bring people together and help them not only learn about the arts but have fun, enjoy the arts and feel proud of the different things they can do from a creative standpoint,” says Seifert.

Rebecca Fitton, an alumnus of both the Fox Valley Youth Symphony and Makaroff Youth Ballet, participated in a collaborative performance with the two organizations this past spring.

“Not only did the dancers and musicians learn from the performance, but many community members were entranced by the power of youth artists,” Fitton says.

For Fitton, these collaborations can both involve the community and enhance the arts themselves.

“Different art forms are both naturally intertwined and compliment each other well,” Fitton says. “It makes complete sense to honor their relationship by renaming the building.”FCM - Heart of Art in the Fox Cities - October - at night

Williams-Lime says she hopes the Fox Cities Building for the Arts collaborations will accentuate this relationship.

“[Art] is woven into everybody’s soul whether they know it or not,” says Williams-Lime. “What we’re trying to do is put a little emphasis on that.”

With fine arts often one of the first programs to be cut in schools, the revamped Fox Cities Building for the Arts can help fill the void and serve as a hub for artists both professional and amateur.

“It really made me think about where I put my money and my time,” says Richeson. “So few people give to the arts and it’s something the whole community does enjoy.”

Along with engaging the community in the arts, the Fox Cities Building for the Arts programming can help foster important skills and allow for creative development among youth.

“It’s so important that we engage our youth in the arts and really help them focus on creativity and problem solving,” Seifert says. “Not only is art something to enjoy, but I truly believe that engaging in the arts encourages creativity, which can in turn encourage innovation, which helps drive the future.”


Planning a PAC Season

FCM - Planning a PAC Season

Those looking forward to the exciting and diverse 2013–14 Fox Cities Performing Arts Center season have themselves and the rest of the community to thank, says Maria Van Laanen, vice president of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. While the final decisions on shows included in the season are made by a committee, its decisions are swayed by community opinion and ticket sales for past events.

The process of putting together a season is a complicated and lengthy one, Van Laanen says. The serious scheduling starts about 15 to 18 months before the season begins. Some Broadway touring shows are scheduled as early as two years in advance, while  individual musicians or comedians can be booked as late as three or four months prior to the performance.

New shows are found in a variety of ways, but Van Laanen says a “trade show” of sorts in New York, where producers, promoters and performers come together, gives “an opportunity to start to gain some awareness of the new artists that may be up-and- coming.” High quality music and family friendly shows are particularly appealing to loyal local audiences, but efforts are made to diversify the season, not only bringing in big-name Broadway shows, but giving Valley residents a chance to see something new.

The upcoming season features everything from an intimate concert with Judy Collins—a show to which Van Laanen says she is particularly anticipating—to the return of the Broadway favorite Wicked.

Visit for the full 2013–14 lineup and ticket information.

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