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Introducing ... the VPA's inaugural director

Posted noon Friday, Aug. 11, 2023

Pete Rydberg has been named the inaugural director of UWL's School of Visual and Performing Arts, which encompasses the Art, Music and Theatre & Dance departments.

Rydberg brings vision, enthusiasm to new role

Careers can be launched anywhere — even from inside a kangaroo costume.  

When Pete Rydberg was in seventh grade, he was cast in his high school’s one-act competition play, a production of A.A. Milne’s “Winnie-the-Pooh.” 

He jokes that he landed the role because his “only volume was ‘loud,’ ” and he conveniently fit in the director’s kangaroo suit. Nonetheless, the play was a major success, placing in a state competition and sparking Rydberg’s dream of a career in theatre. 

“As I matured in my work, I realized the potential that theatre had to transform how we think and feel about the world around us,” Rydberg says. “I have continued to seek that special dynamic between performer and audience.”  

Now, Rydberg brings his passion for performance to his new role as the inaugural director of the UW-La Crosse School of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA).

Rydberg says he hopes to grow the VPA's three departments both individually and collectively.

While he is still getting acclimated, Rydberg says he looks forward to growing the VPA’s three departments — ArtMusic and Theatre & Dance — while strengthening UWL’s reputation as a regional arts center.  

“UWL has three amazing departments housed within the VPA, but the school itself has yet to establish its presence in the community,” Rydberg says. “As a consummate builder, I see limitless opportunities to build the school’s brand identity from the ground up. Ultimately, my hope is to provide more avenues for artistic experience and expression in the day-to-day life of our campus and community members.”  

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

Before that, he was director of theatre and chair of the Music & Theatre Department at a small, private liberal arts college in Pennsylvania.  

While Rydberg is a relative newcomer to La Crosse, he brings a deep familiarity with the region.  

He went to high school in Houston, Minnesota (where he premiered in ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’), and later attended Saint Mary’s University in Winona. He earned his bachelor’s degree from St. Olaf College in Northfield, and his master’s and doctoral degrees from UW-Madison. 

For Rydberg, returning to the area and assuming a new leadership position within the VPA was a golden opportunity.  

“What excites me most about this role is that the position is entirely new. In that sense, the possibilities are endless,” Rydberg says. “I’m still in the conceptualization phase, and every day I learn more and more about the possibilities and challenges that exist for the VPA.”  

One of those challenges will be giving each department the space and support to thrive independently, while finding opportunities for them to collaborate around a shared vision.  

“Each department does what it does very well, but they have been independent silos for many years,” Rydberg says. “Figuring out how to weave those silos into an efficient helix structure — one that maintains programmatic integrity and establishes connective structures among the departments — will take a shared vision, interdepartmental cooperation and trust in one another.”  

While Rydberg’s primary focus is supporting the arts at UWL, he hopes to establish community partnerships that boost all arts programming in the Coulee Region.  

Already, he says, he’s had productive conversations with local artists and arts organizations, with the goal of laying the foundation for shared success.  

“Arts anywhere is good for arts everywhere,” Rydberg says. “Being an active participant and catalyst for the health and well-being of community arts will help nurture and develop the cultural vibrancy of the Coulee Region.” 


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