Community First CU helps brighten downtown Waupaca


Waupaca Community Art Board Mural.Over three weeks starting in late September, the brick wall along Union Street served as a canvas for muralist Leif Larson of Oshkosh. The massive mural on the side of the Antiques on Main building, 202 S. Main St., was commissioned by the Waupaca Community Arts Board thanks to a gift from Community First Credit Union and a tourism grant from the Waupaca Area Convention & Visitors Bureau. 

So many folks thanked me for giving them a shot of optimism during these tough times,” said Larson, who was among several mural artists who submitted ideas. “That meant a lot to me.”
 
The colorful mural embodies and celebrates Waupaca and the surrounding area in nature, community and the downtown,” he said. “It’s a fun world anyone can look around and play in, and yet it speaks to the Waupaca community with its familiar aesthetics and iconic elements.”
 
It’s the scale and details that make seeing this mural in person such an immediate and fun experience,” said Larson. “You feel like you’re actually in the painting’s narrative as you walk down the sidewalk.”
 
The Waupaca arts board recognizes the mural is more than just a pretty picture.

Throughout Northeast Wisconsin, public art is increasingly being viewed as an investment in community well-being and economic vitality. A focus on the arts also gives smaller communities a vitality that could be attractive to a new generation of workers who have the ability to work remotely.
 
Murals increase the real estate values and definitely increase the value of the building that they’re on,” said Lillian Bittman, WCAB board member and Union Street Mural Committee chair. “Aside from the wonderful look and feel, it can make the whole neighborhood rise up in value.”
 
According to the Wisconsin Arts Board, a March 2020 analysis of the arts and cultural sector contributions to the U.S. economy reveal an impact of more than $877 billion nationally, including a $10.1 billion economic benefit in Wisconsin with over 96,000 jobs.
 
Larson, who has recently completed murals in Little Chute and Oshkosh, spent hours with the mural committee discussing “the natural beauty, iconic places and those intangible things each of us think about when we think of Waupaca,” Bittman said.
 
 
Community First has had a long-term partnership with the Waupaca Community Arts Board, serving as title sponsor for Art on the Square since 2008. When that was cancelled due to COVID, the board brainstormed ideas for alternative arts opportunities and the mural project came to the forefront. Community First had initially planned to provide volunteers to assist during a Community Painting Day but that idea was set aside for safety reasons.
 
We believe whole heartedly in lifting up the communities where our members live and work, like Waupaca,” said Community First’s Amanda Secor. “Each of our communities has a unique personality. We're thrilled to be part of celebrating Waupaca through this community mural, enhancing the downtown, increasing community pride and serving as an attraction for visitors.
 
Mona Bureau, owner of Antiques on Main, had considered doing a mural on the side of her building since she bought it and opened for business in early 2017. When the Waupaca arts board approached her, she was all in.
 
It’s an absolutely gorgeous piece,” she said. When asked if it will benefit her business and other downtown merchants, Bureau said, “Without a doubt. People do mural walks and weekends. There are a lot of art enthusiasts out there, and just the mural itself shows what a nice a community we are. It’s just lovely and joyful.

Community First has been a really great partner with the Arts Board for many years,” said Marci Reynolds, WCAB president. “Our missions really match – helping to build strong communities.”

 

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