Ben Richgruber on Eight Years at ECRAC
Friday, November 6th, 2015
Eau Claire Regional Arts Council Executive Director Ben Richgruber has been at his job for eight years. During that time Eau Claire has gone through amazing growth in both the arts community and downtown Eau Claire.
With this in mind, we sat down with him for a one-on-one interview.
How have you seen community support change for the arts and do you see a correlation between this and the growth of Eau Claire?
The Eau Claire arts scene has always been strong. We have a solid history. That said, from what I see community support for the arts has exploded over the last eight years, and I think it’s due to multiple factors. I think you’ve got the right people in the right places at the right time. Local authors are hitting best seller lists and snagging gigs on public radio. A local musician makes it big with a world tour and caps that off with two Grammy Awards. VolumeOne has grown from an upstart arts magazine to an institution with a bright spotlight. ECRAC’s own outreach programs have boomed as well, with classes and art fairs we never would have imagined just a few years earlier. Add to that an historic collaboration between the University and community for a new arts center, and of course the hundreds of people creating music, theatre and art every day, and people can’t help but see the success, and want to support it.
What keeps you enjoying this job?
Definitely the people. New artists on stage and in the gallery, the broad and amazing coalition brought together by the Confluence project, and of course the audiences that make it all possible. There are so many creative, smart, funny people wandering through our doors every day, all with stories to tell.
What’s your favorite thing you’ve learned about the arts in Eau Claire?
It’s everywhere! I’ll meet someone in the lobby or out to dinner somewhere, have a nice conversation that has nothing to do with the arts, and the next thing I know I’m reading about their new album or book or studio or performance. I love it.
In your opinion is there any changes you’d like to see in the overall arts scene?
I think positive things are already happening, so I’m not sure “change” is needed, but we certainly want to encourage the good trends. Audiences are appreciating new and bold choices by artists and performance groups. Donations and philanthropy are up, in the case of Confluence they are up in an unprecedented way. Collaboration is everywhere. The attitude of “Yes” far outshines the attitude of “No,” and we need to keep it that way.
You’ve been involved with the Confluence since it’s inception. How has that informed your role at ECRAC?
With any job it’s easy to fall into a routine. You get comfortable doing things a certain way and maybe don’t always look for opportunities to grow or challenge yourself. With Confluence, I have had no choice but to constantly examine every aspect of the job, the organization and the industry. As we strive to create something new, successful, and so deeply collaborative, everything we think we know is now on the table to be challenged and explored. It’s a unique and amazing professional opportunity, to be sure…and it definitely keeps me on my toes!
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