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The Great Outdoors

Outside spaces bring the arts to life, naturally

Nature inspires, invigorates and cultivates creativity. It is a fitting backdrop for concerts, performances and interactive education. Two local organizations are giving their outdoor spaces some serious upgrades in an effort to create artful experiences for Northeast Wisconsin residents of all ages.

Interactive Childrenʼs Learning Garden

A rendering of the Interactive Children's Learning Garden.

A rendering of the Interactive Children’s Learning Garden.

This spring the Kaukauna Public Library kicked off fundraising efforts for an Interactive Childrenʼs Learning Garden. The garden will be the latest addition to the new library located on the second floor of the historic Eagle Mill at Grand KaKalin which opened on February 29.

“The whole idea behind the garden is to create a natural, educational, collaborative space,” says Ashley Thiem-Menning, programming librarian at Kaukauna Public Library. “We want to take advantage of what the space offers to make our library more interactive and interesting to the community.”

The garden will be divided into six “classrooms” devoted to the study of biology, music, archeology, literature, art and history as well as an amphitheater for outdoor library events, concerts and school groups. While the gardenʼs main goal is to engage youth, Thiem-Menning says there will be plenty of room for adults to read a book or have a meeting.

Thiem-Menning says the space, which drew inspiration from Bookworm Gardens in Sheboygan, will complement the libraryʼs new 26,600-square-foot facility and is unlike anything currently in the Fox Cities.

“The community is pretty inspired by what weʼve done here with the construction thatʼs already taken place,” says Library Director Tony Wieczorek. “We want to finish the first part, the interior of the library, but our goal has always been to incorporate that garden. Itʼs the first thing people see when they drive into the development.”

Phase one of the four phase project will include grading the area and the construction of a butterfly garden which should begin this summer. Wieczorek says the current fundraising goal is set at $150,000, but it could change as plans continue to develop. The project timeline will depend on how quickly fundraising goals are met which Wieczorek anticipates will be sooner rather than later.

“The community has bought into this project very energetically and their donations will make this dream possible,” Wieczorek says. “Itʼs very much their project, their library.”

The Grand Garden

A rendering of the Grand Garden's amphitheater.

A rendering of the Grand Garden’s amphitheater.

Since opening for business in 1996, the Green Bay Botanical Garden has grown into a community asset serving 130,000 visitors a year. The Garden has held performing arts events in the upper gardens for the last 20 years, with the last five years averaging 750 attendees per event.

“We really had to grow into this space,” says Executive Director Susan Garot. “We were starting to hear from visitors that if they donʼt get to events early enough, they couldnʼt see the performers. We have reached our capacity. Itʼs time to expand to accommodate all who wish to attend.”

Currently 22 of the Gardenʼs 47 acres are developed as display gardens. The next phase of the growth plan is to complete the “backyard” by developing a two and a half acre area into whatʼs being called the Grand Garden.

The Grand Garden will feature an amphitheater that would host local, regional and national touring acts, with seating for 1,500 people in a casual, outdoor setting. Restrooms, concessions, a catering kitchen and classrooms would be available for year-round use as well as side structures for smaller private or sponsor events. Expanded opportunities to showcase the Gardenʼs nationally recognized horticultural collections, including more than 100 varieties of magnolias, will be made possible in the Grand Garden.

“Itʼs a $5 million project and it will take an investment from people in the community who wish to see an improved arts and culture scene in Northeast Wisconsin,” says Garot who notes that no tax dollars have supported the Garden since its opening.

The goal is to complete the construction phase of the project by spring of 2017, with plantings installed next year, and grand opening events including Nature Connects®, a traveling exhibit of 20 larger-than-life sculptures built with LEGO® bricks, already scheduled for 2018.

“We are really hoping to ʻwowʼ the community,” Garot says. “The Gardensʼ economic impact is $6 million a year. With this program, we could double that. It will be the background for creating memories in peoplesʼ lives.”

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