“Quality of place” has been a buzzword of late for officials who work in economic development, but the music variable that helps score points within that category has a long, rich history in Eau Claire.
With several outdoor festivals, decorated jazz programs and a variety of unique events and performance venues, the music scene in the Chippewa Valley compares favorably with other markets of similar size. Daniel Ott, a lecturer in UW-Eau Claire’s History Department, is making an effort to ensure that scene is well documented. He’s leading a group of public history students and faculty in a project that includes gathering “personal family stories, artifacts, photographs, documents or other treasures that touch on Eau Claire’s music history,” according to a news release.
“We want to create a deeper and more inclusive look at the history of the local music scene,” Ott said in the release. “Despite the city’s commitment to music, the popular understanding of local musical history still is shallow.”
Ott’s team will gather the submissions during the “Sounds of Eau Claire History Harvest” event from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 3, at the Chippewa Valley Museum. Three staffed stations will be available to convert contributed data to a digital format. There also will be live music, lectures and a panel discussion.
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Contributions at the “History Harvest” will not include audio music recordings because of technological limitations and copyright issues, Ott said.
“Anyone in the community who has objects, papers or stories to share can just attend the event and contribute to the creation of a digital community music history archive,” he said. “Our goal is to be as inclusive as possible, so that we can create a complete picture of the local music landscape, including people, traditions, spaces, institutions and moments — from the university to festivals and the Joynt, from the living room to the punk rock basement.”
The harvest was a “logical next step” in a “Sounds of Eau Claire” program begun last spring. To date, Ott and his students have collected 23 oral histories from a variety of personalities who have contributed to local music. Given the possibility of a high volume of contributions during the upcoming event, those submitting items will be limited to 30-minute sessions.
“(That) will require participants to help make choices about which pieces are most important to contribute to the project,” Ott said. “This is to say, people should not bring 400 photographs, 50 concert posters and two scrapbooks and expect that we will be able to digitize them all.”
As such, those behind the project will hold an overflow event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 14, at UW-Eau Claire Archives and Special Collection. Individual appointments also will be available.
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After the harvest, content will be preserved in the UW-Eau Claire archives for community and scholarly use, Ott said. In collaboration with Blugold Radio, contributed oral histories will be produced into podcast segments.
“We will also create an online collection of contributed materials with historical interpretation and digital exhibits curated by UW-Eau Claire public history students,” he said.
With a new arts center soon opening in downtown Eau Claire and other cultural developments in the area, the timing for an effort such as this couldn’t be better. Recognizing the region’s past adds another layer to a quality-of-life sector that’s of growing importance for the region.
“Our hope is that the event itself and the products we create from the collected materials will give our community and its visitors a great appreciation of local music history, as well as a sense of themselves within this musical moment,” Ott said.
“The most amazing part of this project so far has been the outpouring of enthusiasm and interest ... from across the community. ... It is clear to me that music is very important to this community, and people have a lot of stories and opinions to share about the current musical moment.”