The Arts in the Small Community was a seminal project of the University of Wisconsin’s Office of Community Arts Development in 1966. Robert E. Gard was the visionary who led this project.
Gard joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin in 1945 and established the Wisconsin Idea Theatre that year. In Wisconsin, his chief areas of activity were in the theater arts and in creative writing, with a strong side activity in collecting and publishing the folklore of the state.
In 1967 he established the functional area of Arts Development under University Extension and remained a specialist in the arts in smaller communities and rural areas.
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Arts in the Small Community, the Gard Foundation, working with the Wisconsin Arts Board, UW-Madison Oral History Program (OHP) and UW-Madison Division of Continuing Studies, collected memories of the activities and impact of artists, educators, and administrators whose reach extended from the University to the people of Wisconsin, inspiring them to write, paint, dance, make music, perform or administer arts.
Wisconsin’s rural arts development history is a rich one, easily traced back to the articulation of the Wisconsin Idea in the early 1900’s, through the UW College of Agriculture’s decision to hire the nation’s first artist-in-residence in 1936, through seminal WHA programming such as “Let’s Draw” with James Schwalbach, through Robert Gard’s tenure at the University and culminating in the rich network of artists who worked through University Extension in many capacities from many campuses in the 1970s.
New directions at the University meant that these professors and academic staff were not replaced when they retired, and today, very few people are aware of this extraordinary history.
The Gard Foundation aims to collect as many stories as possible either from the faculty artists still living, or from those who knew them well.
Note to Researchers
The interviews are easily accessible by simply clicking on any name listed below. You will find two categories for each entry: the first, Interview begins the oral presentation; the second Interview – Index provides a written outline, summary or additional background information.
Quite early in the process, listeners will want to watch the Maryo Gard Ewell lecture delivered as part of a UW-Madison Seminar/Lecture Series on The Wisconsin Idea, October 10, 2017: An excellent overview of the role the arts played in the shaping and delivery of the Wisconsin Idea to the people of the state can be found in Ms. Gard Ewell’s lecture, “No Mute Inglorious Milton.” It introduces some of the great individuals of the early 20th century who provide foundation and historical context for the interviews in this oral history series. Researchers not familiar with this background are urged to start with this lecture.
Because each of these narrators played so many roles as educators, activists, artists and administrators, and because the “arts extension” programs went by so many names over the decades, we identify individuals and their affiliation in the most general of terms.
A suggestion for organizing listening to the series, but not necessarily in the order presented: 1.) Robert Gard himself; 2.) Close personal friends, Allison and Lefebvre; 3.) Earlier years, Harbaugh and Thurrell; 4.) NEA Arts in the Small Community national grant program, Gard, Ewell and Warlum; 5.) Wisconsin Idea Theatre, Gard, Peterson and Warlum; 6.) Personal family and national arts leadership, Ewell; 7.) Art – 4-H Youth, Echtner, Nelson and Thurrell; 8.) Dance – Cowan; 9.) Music – 4-H Youth, Harbaugh, Rabin, Wolf and Zellner; 10.) Theatre and Drama – 4-H Youth, Gard, Peterson and Thompson; 11.) Writing – Allison, Apps, Cook, Gard, Lefebvre and Lewis; 12.) Departmental administration – Gard, Thompson, Warlum and Wolf.
Robert E. Gard Foundation – Oral History Project Interviews
*The audio for the Rabin interview is barely audible; because of that fact as of December 2016, there is no summary document for it. For more information about how to access that interview, contact the Oral History Program.
These interviews are publicly accessible online through MINDS@UW, the UW’s digital repository, as well as housed at the UW-Madison Archives (home of the OHP). For more information about this particular project or the UW-Madison Oral History Program, contact Oral History Program head Troy Reeves. On, Wisconsin!