New arts space, shop brings creative verve

The two-story brick building in downtown Hortonville looks much like any other mid-century municipal building. Until recently, it was the police station for this village of less than 3,000, about 15 minutes west of Appleton. But in the last year, Standard Projects, located at 111 S. Nash St., has already established itself as an original, influential, creative and unique arts destination.

016-PO-hortonvilleWhen the police department moved to a new municipal building in 2014, the old building became available. Artist Claire Abitz, who had been living in Brooklyn, N.Y., grew up in Hortonville and saw an opportunity to return to the area.

“Working here has provided the time and space to make the best things possible while still being connected to larger metropolitan areas,” she explains.

Since July 2014, she has transformed the brick and cinderblock building into a beautiful, multipurpose space to live and work. Abitz wants this communal workspace to be a welcoming, collaborative environment for artists.

Like many small towns, Hortonville struggles to keep businesses downtown. Highway 15 passes right through the center of town, and many small businesses have thrived there thanks to this thoroughfare. However, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation has scheduled major construction of a Highway 15 bypass around Hortonville to start in 2018. With this firmly
in mind, the activity at Standard Projects has become a small, yet unique force of creative downtown revitalization and preservation.

“The village is very receptive to new ideas. Local business owners and village board members have been very accessible and encouraging of improvements and changes around town,” explains Abitz.

During the summer of 2015, Standard Projects hosted its first artists-in-residence program. Five artists from around Wisconsin and the U.S. stayed in Hortonville to find inspiration and time to work on their projects or begin new ones. For example, when artist-in-residence Nathan Pearce visited for a week from southern Illinois, he completed a series of photo books inspired by Hortonville’s history. The town was founded in 1848 by a man named Alonzo Horton, who incidentally went on to develop the city of San Diego, Calif. Like all of the visiting artists at Standard Projects, Pearce’s explorations took him to other locations around the village, which highlighted its local character.

The Standard Projects building is as unique as its purpose. Downstairs, the large, open basement level is split into a private living area and a large performance space called Pssst…, which hosts music events. Upstairs, an open-plan workshop contains numerous sewing machines and work surfaces. In October 2015, Abitz and long-term artist-in-residence Shannon Slane co-founded a new shop, Fox Valley Found + Collected, in a room on the top floor. It features a curated selection of vintage gifts and décor in addition to handmade items from local artists. Slane and Abitz offer workshops, and there is even a miniature art gallery in an old vault.

Slane is excited by the potential of creative endeavors here. She envisions the village as a creative hub and destination. By actively bringing visitors to downtown, whether through the artist residency, the shop or other events, residents like Abitz are exploring unique ways to build on the community spirit of Hortonville. She says, “The freedom of living and working in Hortonville is what drew me in, and the potential I see now that I am part of the community is why I want to stay.”

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—By Kate Mothes

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