by Anastasia Penchi

Artistically-speaking, La Crosse has it going on.

ArtspireThe city has a thriving theater force to be reckoned with, including entities like La Crosse Community Theatre and Weber Center for the Performing Arts – not to mention our local comedy troupe Heart of La Crosse.

Art galleries like the Pump House Regional Arts Center and JMP Art Studio and Gallery offer open hours, and cultural education and entertainment is also brought here by the La Crosse Center, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, Viterbo University and Western Technical College.

The La Crosse School District is known for its emphasis on the arts. The La Crosse Concert Band has free concerts in Riverside Park in the summer, and La Crosse County Historical Society members dress in period clothes to welcome tourists.

With a smorgasbord of artistic endeavors to choose from, it’s only natural that this thriving Coulee of Creativity should have a festival to celebrate its artiness. Enter Artspire La Crosse, an event designed to connect the community through meaningful arts experiences. Here are some of the reasons you should come out and attend the third annual festival held in June in Downtown La Crosse:

1) Summer’s here and the time is right for Dancing in the Streets

It’s not just a song sang by Martha and the Vandellas. And The Kinks. And Van Halen. And David Bowie and Mick Jagger. Whatever your generation, Artspire is providing an invitation across the nation to visit downtown La Crosse and dance on King Street near the Pump House Regional Arts Center. There might be music offered by local acts including Cheech & Co., DJ Wazzy, T.U.G.G. and Straight Flush. Cloud Cult, an experimental indie rock band from Minneapolis played multiple years, and It features six band members and two visual artists who paint as the music is being played. Cool, eh?

2) Draw outside the lines.

Chalkfest is one of the public art experiences planned at Artspire this year, and you don’t have to be a 5-year-old to participate. Kids of all ages, as well as the young at heart, are invited to draw on sidewalks. The Mississippi Steamrollers project is another art project, and this involves artist-carved images on wood that are printed with ink via an industrial steamroller. Some of the steamroller images to be on display were created by La Crosse School District students. There is also an open juried art show that will result in three pieces being displayed at City Hall for the next year.

3) Volunteer for some unique sounding jobs.

An event of this magnitude needs a lot of volunteers to keep things moving. Organizers are expecting at least 5,000 people to attend, so they need a lot of cleaner-uppers (i.e. Zookeepers). They also need Town Criers to roam around Downtown La Crosse and direct people to certain activities. Are you good at attracting attention? Do you already have a costume in mind? If so, you may be perfect for the Town Crier gig.

4) Art fair and sale.

Meet and support our area artists by purchasing their art from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. About 50 artists have signed up for booths and their wares sound really awesome. Aren’t you curious to see the yarn bombings made by Echo Recycling or the handmade jewelry created out of repurposed vintage kimonos by Masterpiece Collections? I know I am.

5) It’s all free, and it’s meant for all ages.

Bring the kids because both the festival and downtown La Crosse are stroller-friendly. Bring the grandparents, too, for that matter. Downtown boutiques and shops are also getting involved with the movement. Some shops will have art by local artists on display. The Great River Popcorn Company will be stringing popcorn. There will be wine tasting and a DJ at That Foreign Place. A kids coloring contest will be taking place at Fayze’s. Come to La Crosse and celebrate the arts.

If you’ve always wanted to list Town Crier on your resume, or if you want to learn more about Artspire in general, visit the Pump House Regional Arts Center Web site at or visit the Artspire Facebook page at Artspire La Crosse.

Anastasia Penchi

Anastasia Penchi

Freelance writer

Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (