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A new artistic vision

Posted 2:39 p.m. Friday, April 12, 2024

As the inaugural director of UWL's Schools Visual & Performing Arts, Rydberg's year-one priorities have included enhanced marketing, strengthened community engagement and a collaborative approach to moving the school forward.

Rydberg reflects on first year leading UWL's School of Visual & Performing Arts

UWL’s School of Visual & Performing Arts is used to creating. 

Thought-provoking artwork. 

Rich musical numbers. 

Captivating theatrical performances. 

But under its inaugural director, Pete Rydberg, the school has been working to create something new: a fresh and unified identity, centered on a shared goal of enhancing arts offerings on campus and in the community. 

“One of the things I’m enjoying about this role is having a chance to connect with so many people who love and want to nurture the arts in La Crosse,” Rydberg says. “It’s a really fun and welcoming ecosystem to be a part of. Particularly at the campus level, we’re walking on a lot of new and untested ground, coming together as one school under a unified brand. The trust people have shown in that process has been fantastic, and we’re really excited about what’s ahead.” 

The School of Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) comprises three departments — Art, Music and Theatre & Dance — that Rydberg hopes to bolster both individually and collectively. 

Relative to his most recent position as director and chair of the theatre program at Emporia State University in Kansas, Rydberg’s new role poses unique challenges and opportunities. 

“When you’re working with three departments instead of one, it’s important that you take time to get to know the departments and individuals, and their vision for the direction of their programs,” he says. “You have to take that time to listen to people. I’m excited to keep having those conversations and work toward those long-term goals.”  

While some goals will take years to realize, Rydberg has spearheaded several changes and initiatives in his first several months on the job: 

  • Developing a VPA logo that captures the identity of all three departments 
  • Launching an art on campus initiative that expands access and visibility for student and faculty artwork 
  • Taking on marketing and other administrative responsibilities, allowing faculty to concentrate on teaching, research and creative work 
  • Partnering with faculty to develop new scholarships and submit project grant applications 
  • Bolstering the VPA’s online presence, including social media and advertising for VPA events 
  • Restructuring the VPA’s signature event, ArtsFest, to include four full days of arts programming, with weekend and evening events geared toward the community. 

“Coming into this job, I knew that the first several months would be about learning how things move and hopefully getting the wheels turning on some of these projects,” Rydberg explains. “I’m proud of what we’ve done to this point and the way people have come together. And while there are so many initiatives that are just getting off the ground, once things are in motion, they continue moving forward.”

Rydberg comes to UWL from Emporia State University in Kansas, where he served as director and chair of the theatre program.

Along with his connections on campus, Rydberg has been meeting with members of the broader arts community to share ideas and learn more about the history of arts in La Crosse. 

“Part of what makes La Crosse so cool is the core group of people engaged in supporting a culture of arts,” he says. “Part of my job has just been sitting down with people over coffee or over lunch, understanding more about what they do and getting a long view of how La Crosse has changed through the years.” 

Rydberg believes that what is good for the broader arts community is also good for UWL, and vice versa. 

“Arts programming is not a competitive sport. Most of the time, you don’t have to choose between one exhibition or performance over another — you can go to them all,” he says. “So I really want to be part of a La Crosse-wide community dialogue about how we can support each other and, like the tide, lift all boats. Community partnerships do that. They elevate arts across the board.” 

Rydberg has big plans for the VPA in the years ahead:  

  • Working with VPA faculty and students to support academic and cocurricular programming 
  • Adapting the Lowe Center for the Arts to meet the evolving needs of the VPA 
  • Pursuing the development of a music concert hall and a dedicated dance studio 
  • Increasing access to VPA events through the construction of a parking ramp adjacent to the Lowe Center 
  • Establishing a VPA Living Learning Community, allowing students to share a living space and create connections around common interests. 

“One thing I’ve really appreciated is how everyone at UWL has really embraced the significance of the VPA, particularly those in the upper echelons of the administration,” Rydberg says. “Having been here a solid half year, every interaction I’ve had has left me with this sense of unfaltering support for the arts as a critical piece of students’ four-year experience. This position wasn’t created as a way to pay lip service to the arts. It was created as a way to make the arts stronger and more present on campus, and that’s what we’re trying to do.” 


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