Jean Detjen co-founded the Northeast Wisconsin Arts Association in the fall of 2017 with Greg Kinley, and the two hosted NEWAA’s grand opening at Foxley’s Gallery, Appleton, in January. A writing and marketing professional who was among the core group that launched Mile of Music, Detjen sat down with Insight Editor Margaret LeBrun to discuss her goal to grow NEWAA as a champion for artists throughout the 18-county region of the New North.
I’m very passionate about arts and creativity. We can say things through creative expression that can’t often be said through other means. It transcends racial barriers, backgrounds and language.
A vibrant arts and culture scene is critical as a magnet for people to want to live, work and play in a city. If you’re trying to draw businesses or attract talent, you have to provide those offerings.
The Northeast Wisconsin Arts Association, which I co-founded with my business partner Greg Kinley, officially opened the doors in the fall of 2017. Greg is the director of operations, and I’m serving as the executive director, the face of the organization.
NEWAA represents 28 different categories of artists and creatives — anything from visual artists and writers to performance artists, filmmakers and creative designers. We represent the same 18 counties as the New North. That was intentional; we need to be mindful of how arts and culture is such a critical component to quality of life.
We had a soft opening in September, then on Jan. 20, we had our grand opening. We expect to have several hundred members in the next year or so. While we have our headquarters in downtown Appleton at Foxley’s Gallery, we have plans to set up satellite offices in each of the 18 counties we represent.
Most of our members now are artists. We are working hard to recruit more art patrons, art organizations and supportive businesses. We work with Arts Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Arts Board, but we also want to get into grassroots organizations throughout the region. We are filing to be a 501-(c)3 (nonprofit organization). We are looking for grants and sponsorships for the events, classes and workshops that we will be producing. Greg and I have been working on this close to one year without pay.
My background is in writing, marketing and events. I developed Project Starfish in about 2007 and spent about seven years with that program, which provides opportunities to low-income K-12 students throughout the Fox Cities, so they can be involved in co-curricular activities at their school. They receive a grant for what they need (averaging $50 to $100 for a class, materials or camp), and in return we ask them to pay it forward by sharing their talents in some way. I set up a template for the program, and it’s now sustainable through each school.
Not too long after that, Mile of Music was concerned about having a charitable component, beyond a fun music festival, to provide arts opportunities and opportunities for kids. I had worked in the past with Creative Downtown Appleton on their marketing and PR committee, and was fortunate enough to be part of the core team of people that got Mile of Music off the ground.
Providing a space where art would be interactive, engaging and participatory was important, so I began organizing pop-up art shows. The first one I did was the “Take Me to the River” exhibit in the old Thilmany paper mill, now the Grand Kakalin in Kaukauna, in November 2016. We took over this big, empty warehouse and turned it into a month-long art exhibition. We couldn’t believe it when over 700 people showed up.
My dream is to have a vibrant, diverse membership base where you can see the plethora of all the creative talent that we have showcased and highlighted via our network, to be a strong community presence that’s palpable. We want to have an app to help you find what is going on.
We want to see more public art. We want to see more money invested into arts education. We also want to be a voice or presence for how arts and culture are tied into social justice. Art is often a voice for the voiceless.