Courtesy Visit Eau Claire
Imagine a town where April Fools’ Day is celebrated with an old-fashioned pillow fight, where people plop into inner tubes and float down a placid river, where the indie folk band Bon Iver and the state poet laureate, Max Garland, are part of the milieu.
Welcome to Eau Claire, Wis. Once home to lumberjacks and lumber barons, the city of 65,000 is now home to entrepreneurs and other forward-thinkers as well as 10,000 exuberant college students.
Eau Claire’s youth, its painters, its poets and its percussionists energize the central Wisconsin town.
“We have cultural vibes other cities our size don’t have,” said Linda John, executive director of Visit Eau Claire.
Turn up Volume One
The quickest way to get a handle on Eau Claire and its emerging edginess is to pick up a copy of Volume One, a free arts-and-culture publication launched a decade ago by two young local men.
Every two weeks, 14,000 copies are printed and stacked about town. For its 45,000 loyal readers, Volume One has become a roadmap for social life. Among them is Erin Poeschel, an interpreter and services specialist for the deaf and hard of hearing at Chippewa Valley Technical College in Eau Claire.
Finding free fun
Last year, as Poeschel planned a conference in Eau Claire for the Wisconsin Registry of the Deaf, she turned to Volume One. The budget-conscious group needed some free evening entertainment.
In Volume One, Poeschel read about free summer concerts at the city’s Phoenix Park; on the Thursday night of the conference, many of the 50 attendees and Poeschel ended up there, enjoying free music and the nine-acre park’s river views.
“What a great way to unwind, with a concert in the park,” Poeschel said. “I had no idea these things were happening until I picked up Volume One. Now it is my go-to for learning about new places to eat or what is happening in town.”
In its 10-year anniversary issue published last year, Volume One proclaimed that it was “poised to make its mark on the Chippewa Valley and help launch a cultural revolution.”
Many, including John, say it has already done so. In addition to publicizing the creative efforts and events of others, Volume One has created its own events, the April Fools’ Pillow Fight, the Chalkfest and the Rock-n-Roll Kickball Classic among them.
John credits Volume One founder, editor and publisher Nick Meyer with “not only promoting our culture, but creating it, as well. They’ve done a lot to shape the cultural personality of Eau Claire.”