Ben Richgruber Interview




Ben Richgruber is the executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center. In this Oral History he discusses his early life with music and his education involving the arts. He also discusses his involvement with the Eau Claire Regional arts center and the State Theater.


Interviewer Chris Pederson


April 3, 2017


Chris: [00:00:17] All right, this interview is being conducted with Ben Richgruber for the Sounds of Eau Claire oral history project. Today is April 3rd, 2017, and we are at the State Theater in downtown Eau Claire. This is the interviewer, Chris Pederson. I wanted to hit you up for your background first a little bit.

Ben: [00:00:41] Okay.

Chris: [00:00:42] I know you went to UWEC, did you have any experience in performing prior to getting into UWEC, like high school plays or anything like that?

Ben: [00:00:53] Yeah, high school is where I got the theater bug, it was my sophomore year in high school, I was in a show. That was probably the one that really created the beast, and made me who I am today. I had done a few things before that, you know you've got your Bible school as a kid and whatnot, you know the different performances you do there, but I think the first voluntary performance would have been that one in high school.

Chris: [00:01:16] Nice. Did your family, did they encourage it, did they sing together, or
anything like that, or was it part of your family tradition?

Ben: [00:01:27] My mother played the piano all the time. She was a kindergarten teacher, and at that point, I think most of the teachers in school had a piano in the classroom. She just retired recently, and she was the last one to have a piano in her classroom. That seems to have changed over time, which is interesting. Yeah, she would always be playing the piano, you know whip out the crate of holiday music and start playing that around probably Halloween, she'd start playing her Christmas music, but always very supportive and encouraging us to be creative and, "Just go do what you want to do."

Chris: [00:01:57] Did she teach you piano, or did you learn any other instruments?

Ben: [00:02:01] I did take piano lessons from another woman in town, and that was okay. I
wasn't really much for practicing, so it was sort of a slow slog, but I got the basics down.

Chris: [00:02:12] All right, and then so when you did get to UWEC, you had a bit of a
background, did you have musical training?

Ben: [00:02:22] I did not, and still have not had any musical training. My degree was in
theater, and that's where I stayed. I really never took voice lessons, I can't sing, I can't
dance, I don't even know that I can act, but that's what got me through. Yeah, I studied
theater specifically, and that's where I really found my passion.

Chris: [00:02:44] Was your first paid gig, was it in theater for a play, or was it juggling?

Ben: [00:02:53] My first paid gig for theater, that would have been juggling, is probably
where I started to make a little bit of cash. Yeah, when I was in high school, I learned how to juggle, a friend and I started basically teaching each other how. He was down in Madison and saw the Madison area juggling club in action, so he came back and is like, "Ben, we have to learn how to do this," so we did. Then we were hanging out in the park, throwing stuff at each other, and somebody drives by and says, "Hey, come and do a show for us," so then we had to quick, write a show, and it turns out that show was basically an audition for all of the libraries in the area for their summer reading program. They had a circus theme that year, so all of these different libraries around the Sparta area within 60 miles wanted jugglers to come at some point during the summer. We just kind of lucked out and started getting paid to throw things at each other.

Chris: [00:03:43] …and that was even before college?

Ben: [00:03:45] That was before college, that was between junior and senior year of high school, and then some of that senior year too.

Chris: [00:03:51] While you were at UWEC, did you have much contact with the local music and arts scene outside of the university?

Ben: [00:04:05] Limited. At that point, I mean there seemed to be a divide, but I was also just in so many shows, you know once you're a theater student, you are a theater student, I mean you spend all of your hours in that department, in that green room rehearsing with your friends and classmates, and doing the main stage shows. There wasn't that specific connection to the community. I did do an internship with the theater guild, that was my senior year, so that got me more involved with the community theater side of it.

Chris: [00:04:36] There's a theater guild here?

Ben: [00:04:37] Yes, the Triple Valley Theater Guild, and their office used to be here in the State Theater building, and now they have the Grand over on Grand, and they've moved their shop over there. That was my probably deepest community-related experience, I was one of the younger kids, so I didn't turn 21 until my senior year, so I couldn't go out to the bars and listen to the music scene, so I really didn't get into that because I legally couldn't get into that, but it was more of the theater side that last year that I started to experience a little more, but still not very deeply. That's kind of one of the exciting things about confluence is you have to interact with the community, whereas before, it wasn't as specifically forced upon you. Encouraged for sure, but?

Chris: [00:05:25] You actually interned at the State Theater?

Ben: [00:05:27] Yes.

Chris: [00:05:28] Kind of neat.

Ben: [00:05:29] Yeah.

Chris: [00:05:30] Did you do any plays or anything here?

Ben: [00:05:30] I did not do any shows here, I was doing the university shows, I think was in just about every main stage by junior and senior year, and that's what, five a year, so had a pretty busy schedule over there.

Chris: [00:05:47] What would you say, what experience prepared you most to be the executive director of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center?

Ben: [00:05:56] That is a great question, and I don't know. When I was at the university, it was a comprehensive theater major, so you had to take a little bit of everything. The
theater management class really sort of stuck with me, so that was the business side.
We all had to create a business plan sort of theater company, you know an imaginary
theater company that we'd open up. I sort of realized that I was the only one in the
room that enjoyed that class, you know it was a bunch of actors or designers, and here
they had to do math. I loved being around all those people, but I could also do the math
and read the balance sheet, and kind of come up with the business side of it. I really enjoyed that, and then I graduated. We started tinkering with an arts management minor, but at the time, I was far enough along that I didn't want to add a couple more years to my time at the university, I was kind of ready to go. I ended up graduating, and then after I left, I got a job in hotel management, and that helped prepare me. That was a much more intense business training, and networking and Chamber of Commerce lifestyle. That, coupled with the theater, you know putting those two together got me ready for this job here at ACRAC.

Chris: [00:07:10] Interesting. How long have you actually been in this position for?

Ben: [00:07:14] I have been here for nine and a half years, since fall of 2007.

Chris: [00:07:19] What are some of the changes since you've started?

Ben: [00:07:22] Oh man, everything has changed, we are now profitable, we were not
profitable then. The Jenna Carson Gallery was kind of our first major/minor renovation
of the building here, so that helped give us a lot more visibility on the visual art side, and
led to more art workshops and art outreach on the visual art side. On the performing
arts side, our board has really, they're more willing to take risks and do bigger shows,
and bring things through that we hadn't done in the past. A lot of that is financial, we
just couldn't afford to do that before, but the tide really started changing in the
community, and obviously confluence is a result of all of that. That was just kind of
starting to stir, and people saw that there were some cool things happening, and enough people pushed in the right direction that it allowed us to do some things here that we couldn't do those first couple years, but now we can. It's been a slow and steady march, but we've been able to change a lot of things for the better. We're now debt free, paid off the mortgage, so that helps when you don't have to cut that big check every month, gives you a little more flexibility operations-wise to do other things, so that's been good for us. Really just the visibility of the arts in this community, everybody stepping up and saying, "Yeah, that is something that we want." There were definitely cheerleaders, and always have been, but I think now more of the community has bought into that, and that makes everything we do a little easier.

Chris: [00:08:55] Who are like the other stakeholders and partners you've got in the
community here?

Ben: [00:09:01] Well obviously, the arts groups, you've got the symphony, the Theater Guild, Children's Theater, the jazz orchestra, they have helped give us that foundation, they use the space quite a bit, and that allows us to partner with a bunch of regional
promoters. We've got some folks in Milwaukee and Madison that we partner with to
bring in some of the bigger shows, and others that we book on our own. We've really
helped build a lot of those relationships with promoters and with booking agents and
with artists. Then just in the community, a lot of our sponsors have really been strong
and stayed strong for us over the years, even with confluence. It's tempting now for
some people to cut the bigger check to that, because it's the cool new thing, and we do
need to raise a lot of money for it, but they also understand that we need to stay open
and thriving, so that when we move in there, we're ready to hit the ground running.
They've really done a good job of helping on the sponsor side, keep that commitment.
Obviously the city of Eau Claire has been a strong partner, they've been funding us with
room tax money since day one, and that has stayed throughout. They've been a great
partner, they've helped us financially when we needed it, they were a cosigner on loans
from the original construction of the place back in the day, and through all of our more
recent changes. Since then, they've been very willing to help in any way that they can
and make sure that, "Yeah, it's time to resign and get better terms on a new loan, go for
it." They've been good in finding ways to help us be successful too.

Chris: [00:10:24] I know you've got a very wide audience here, any way you can break that down a little bit, of your consistent customers and the people that come in, is that

Ben: [00:10:38] No. I mean, there are definitely people that will take a chance on just about anything that we book, and there are a couple of faces that I can probably count on seeing at most performances, but really most of our audience is everybody, you know
it's very diverse. Some weeks you'll have classic rock one night, country another night, a
family show the next weekend, so each one of those has a different audience. I think
that's a good thing, we don't just have one audience. We bring in such a diverse lineup
of shows that we have a lot of audiences that we cater to, and some of them are big fans of the local organizations, the symphony, and we don't try to compete with those groups, I don't bring in a lot of musical theater or symphonic type acts, because we have quality organizations that do that right now. We maybe try to enhance and bring in a small combo or a one man show, or a smaller cast, something that is more of an independent thing that's not getting the rights to the same show and just doing their version of it. We try to support those local groups, and that I think in turn helps them, because we can cross-pollinate a little bit and their people can see what folks out of town are doing and what's on the road, and it really kind of helps support both. We get a little bit of audience crossover with that type of thing, but in general, we try to bring in a diverse lineup, and that allows us to welcome everybody in the community into the theater at one point.

Chris: [00:12:10] Seeing as this is the Sounds of Eau Claire project, can you tell me about
working with musicians here at the theater, and who you tend to work with, and that
kind of stuff as far as the music scene? Do you play local bands, is it more symphony and
bigger jazz venues?

Ben: [00:12:30] Yeah, well in terms of local musicians, you know the size of the room is kind of tricky, it's hard to just book, you know I'm a huge [Jim Pullman 00:12:38] fan, but it's hard to book him to sit in an 1,100 seat theater, he can play plenty of great venues
around town. What we try to do is find people like that that could open for the touring
acts that come through. A lot of times, the tours just have someone that opens, and
that's just the lineup everywhere, but if ever someone is looking for an opener, I try to
find someone local that we can tie in there, and that's great because they get some
more visibility, and a good example being Jim Pullman, he just opened up for Phil Vassar
here two weeks ago. He got up there and got to play to an entire room of people, and most of them didn't know who he was, but he sold a bunch of CD's afterwards, because they said, "Hey, this guy's cool. What, he's from Eau Claire? Awesome." It's a great chance for our local musicians to add to their resume and meet some touring folks, but also for the local audience who may not get to see all these musicians. We try to leverage that where we can. We have done the backstage concert series, which was our attempt to get those local bands and more regional bands up on our stage, and there we closed off the main curtain, and the audience and the band were onstage, and it was more like a night club venue, and that was really good. We ended up having to scale that back a little bit, because our calendar got too busy on the full-size, in the big house, so we couldn't use the stage for those, so it's kind of a good problem to have. That's one thing I'm looking forward to at confluence, is having multiple venues of multiple sizes, so you can have nights where local bands are in there and performing, but there isn't the pressure to fill an 1,100-seat house, because that can get tricky. Sometimes it can be financially successful with 100 people or 200 people, but it still feels empty in a room that big, so having the right size room I think will help us launch some good programs to help spotlight the local music scene.

Chris: [00:14:34] Speaking of the local music scene and the arts scene in general, have you noticed a good amount of collaboration between different styles of music in Eau Claire, maybe with the size of it, that might not happen in bigger cities, more different types of music mixing and working together?

Ben: [00:14:55] Yeah, I think Eau Claire is a good size community for that. I think the local music scene tends to support itself, there's a lot of collaboration, everybody goes to see each other's gigs, it's a pretty supportive community. That leads to those fun
collaborations. The Triple Valley Jazz Orchestra is sort of one giant collaboration, you know it's got so many members that are also in two, three, four or more other bands
that it gets all of them playing together and talking to each other and, "Oh, you're
working on this, you're working on that." I think it is a good sized community, we've got
a good diverse pool of musicians here, and there are some good projects that they can
work together on and do some cool stuff, even if it's working as pit orchestra for some
of the theater groups, it's still just a chance to get in there and play and try new things
and meet new people, and I think that goes a long way. It's not so big that it's intimidating, so it's also good for new people that move to town that want to get involved. I think it's a fairly welcoming community to, "Yeah, come on in, jam with us, let's try this, let's try that."

Chris: [00:15:58] You mentioned the confluence project, how did you or the Eau Claire
Regional Arts Center kind of form that partnership, how did that all come about?

Ben: [00:16:09] Confluence has been a long time coming. Before I moved to town, in 2005-6, there was a facility study being done here at the State Theater, because this building needs some love. It's been a good building for a long time, but it's overdue for some work. The ACRAC board started looking at what that would cost, and it became pretty apparent that it would be a lot of money. They had done some road trips, looked at other theaters, they had a couple consultants onboard and people were starting to dig
into it, but the executive director here ended up leaving town. She had some family stuff, so needed to move back closer to her parents, so the whole facility study was sort of put on hold, but there was a good level of research and groundwork done. Then in the fall of 2007 is when I came to town, and my first day on the job, literally first day I was here was for a meeting over on Water Street with some of the university crew, [Mike Rendo 00:17:05] was there, and they just wanted to know, "What are ways that the university could partner with the community?" They were sort of undergoing the beginning of their master plan for the next 10, 20 years, and they just wanted to get a broad sense of input. That conversation was happening, and at the same time, Clear Vision Eau Claire was happening, and that was put together by Eau Claire county, and that was again, a few hundred people saying, "What do we want Eau Claire county to look like in the next 20 years?" All those things were sort of happening simultaneously, and they all came to the conclusion that we need some better facilities. Facilities came up with Clear Vision in a couple different areas: There were six key performance areas when all was said and done, and new facilities factored into three of them, economic development, quality of life, and one more that I cannot remember. All of those pieces started coming together like, "Okay, we need some facilities, what does that look like, what do facilities mean?"
Because convention center came up, arena came up, you know performing arts center,
recreation center, the YMCA was part of that. At that point, Mike Rendo from the
university, Linda John from Visit Eau Claire and myself created a Clear Vision Facilities
subcommittee that started looking at what did we mean by facility. We did interviews,
we did one-on-one stuff, surveys with the community, we started talking to user groups,
you know what type of facilities do we need? We need them all, there isn't just one that's the silver bullet, we do need a better arts facility, we do need a convention and
conference facility, we do need a major events center. Looking at all those and seeing
that there was community support, where do you start? Arts center seemed to be the
easiest, but easiest because there was already a demand for it. We knew that we had a full calendar at the State Theater, we knew the university had a strong lineup, so while the other things are still important, we do need a major events center, we do need a conference space. Those are things that were a little bit riskier, in that we didn't have a full calendar already. The arts, we knew that we needed and we knew that we could fill, so that's the one we started rolling with. Through those conversations came confluence, we started talking about, "How much room do you need to do this? How much room do you need to do that? What are the right sizes of the theaters? What's the stage size, what's the house size?", and all those became confluence, and the partnership is really what made it work. The university needed something, the community needed something, and the donors said, "Work on it together," and that just made a whole lot of sense, so we did.

Chris: [00:19:46] I saw the Justin Vernon album cover, album art, so obviously he's been
involved. How did that come about that he had his cover on your guys' wall?

Ben: [00:19:58] Well, it just seems like the right thing. They were looking for a nice big wall to coincide with the Eau Claire festival last summer, that would be a nice piece to have up, and yeah, so one conversation led to another conversation led to a mural.

Chris: [00:20:16] Another thing I know that I believe you're involved with him on that you used, the hotel experience that you mentioned earlier was the Oxbow Hotel, that's
called a boutique hotel, could you explain that?

Ben: [00:20:30] Yeah, Oxbow man, that all started when Volume One moved from its Barstow Street location over to Dewey Street, right across the street from what was then the Green Tree Inn. Nick Meyer of Volume One was looking at that building, and of course his wheels started turning, "This could be something interesting." He bumped into the previous owner at a city council meeting, and they were just chit-chatting, and the guy said, or I think Nick said, "What do you want to do with it?", and he said, "I don't know, you want to buy it?" Then of course the wheel starts spinning faster, so Nick and I had a meeting, and he met with Justin, and everybody was just fitting ideas back and forth. We decided to put a little bit more research into it, so we had a couple feasibility studies done, and we had some people walk through the building and see what could happen. Because it's a cool opportunity, and it's a great chance for us to invest in the
community, you know I'm out there doing my confluence song and dance and asking
people to invest in that with their philanthropy, and I wanted to show people that I was
just as bought into this community, so I invested into the Oxbow. Yeah, it just became
this really fun project, a lot of great ideas bouncing around. Every time that we thought
we had hit a big wall or a roadblock, we were able to get past it, and people just kept
saying, "Yeah, that's a good idea." We expected the business professionals to say,
"Nope, it won't work," and they all said, "Yeah, there's potential there." It just kind of grew into a pretty cool thing, and there were a lot of ideas that we threw at the wall,
and they all seemed to stick. Here we are now, it's open and just started brunch last
weekend, but the music scene has really latched onto it, it's really become Eau Claire's
home for jazz, there's a Monday night jam every week. It's not just people performing, but also community members get to hop up there and play along if they want to, and it tells the story of Eau Claire, you know it's not a chain or a franchise with a very specific list of rules. Boutique doesn't mean opulent and gold-plated, it just means independent, you know it is its own thing, so we're not beholden to a large brand. With that, design-wise, we could start to tell the story of Eau Claire, so all of the rooms have local wood in them from [Timber and Nicky 00:22:43] with Eau Claire Wood Works, so it's all reclaimed bourbon wood from this county. He was able to take all of that wood and turn it into furniture, so the night stands, the headboards, the desks, that's all local reclaimed wood. We've got wood down the walls, the bar, the bar stools, it's all wood from the area. Local artists helped us create things in there, you know the pillows and upholstery, to helping to build all the furniture, the artwork on the wall, it's as local as we could get it. Our design firm, Shelter Architecture, is out of Minneapolis, so still very regional, and
they speak north woods. One of the guys that we worked with over there, Kurt, is from
Chippewa Falls, so he understood the area, and was able to bring that background in to
help create the design. It feels comfortable, it feels a bit like a cabin in the north woods,
but it's still this cool, modern design and feel too. It's got all the amenities you need for
the business traveler and whatnot, we wanted to make it accessible and usable, but also
that it could tell the story of Eau Claire, where we came from and where we're going, so
you know when you're there that you are in Eau Claire.

Chris: [00:23:53] Is that right, it's got a record player in every room?

Ben: [00:23:56] Record player in every room, yep, we've got a big vinyl library at the front desk you can check out. It's always fun to talk to people, they're like, "Oh yeah, we're staying at the Oxbow," like got to ask what records to check out, and they always do, and they'll give you their rundown of what to grab, so you get to learn a little bit about who's staying there by what music they check out.

Chris: [00:24:14] I guess you guys have like bikes and stuff like that too, since you've got the trails coming right through?

Ben: [00:24:18] Yep, exactly, the hotel is right on the state bike trail. We've got bikes for rent over there, of course we're on the river, so we've got kayaks you can rent as well, and we're going to set up some tours this summer so you can, either a certain time we'll
take you in the kayaks down the river, you can float on down, we'll have lunch ready for
you when you get out of the water, and get you back to the hotel. Yeah, it's fun, and
that's the type of thing that locals can do, it's not just for the people staying in the hotel.
We wanted to make sure that it brought everyone together. You've got the guest rooms
that bring people from out of town, but then you've got the, the restaurant there, and
the Oxbow Outfitters, which is the adventure rentals, the tubes and kayaks and bikes, so people from the community are invited into this space, people from out of town are
invited into this space, and we can all just get to know each other and make some

Chris: [00:25:08] There was a bit of a brawl there April 1st?

Ben: [00:25:11] Yes, feathery fury, the return of Volume One's annual pillow fight was April 1st. That was this weekend, and it was awesome, it was so fun to see that parking lot full of people just swinging those pillow. It tied in with kickoff of our brunch, the
weather was perfect, I mean you couldn't ask for better weather, it was sunny and 60,
and that's about as good as you can get on April 1st. Yeah, it's nice, and we want to do
more of that, as a community space, we want to have three, four, five of those big kind
of block parties, close off the parking lot and do a big event. All summer long, we want
to be able to have some fun out there and share our excitement with the community.

Chris: [00:25:50] Now they're going to have the parking lot not too far from your hotel, so I don't know, has parking been much of a consideration?

Ben: [00:25:59] Parking really hasn't been a problem, you know we've got the ramp
connected to the Lismore, there's the new ramp now down by Jansen RCU, so there's
plenty of parking. It's not like it was 34 years ago, you can't just park in front of the store
all the time and walk right in the front door, but there's plenty of parking, if you're able
to walk a block or two, you're set.

Chris: [00:26:21] You mentioned the original people who came together to make confluence happen, who else have you picked up along the way, some of the main people involved?

Ben: [00:26:33] Oh man, it's a really good group of awesome people from all areas, I mean you've got Justin Vernon, that's giving it a little bit of higher publicity there, but the entire crew at the university, their marketing team, their theater and events team has really helped design a lot of stuff and move it forward, the EW Eau Claire Foundation has done a lot of heavy lifting with the fundraising. Then you've got community leaders, RCU, the folks over there, and Jerry Jacobson is at Northwestern Bank, and he's helping lead the Arts, Inc. board, people like Mel Breed, who's just been a business leader and friend of the arts for a very long time, he retired recently and is putting his full heart and soul into this project. It's really been great, and then of course all the local arts groups and everybody on the ACRAC board that's been pushing forward. It really has been fun to see everybody from the community come out. Of course we had to fight our way through two referendums, and we won, but that was another beast, that was a whole other fight that we had to deal with that we didn't anticipate as the project started. We had a huge army of volunteers come out of the woodwork for that to make sure that we could get the votes to go the way we needed. That felt good too, it really has been a community project. It started with a few people and a couple institutions, but when you really get down to it, it was the will of the people that made it happen in so many ways, whether it was knocking on doors during the referendums, or writing checks big and small for the philanthropy, it's made a big difference.

Chris: [00:28:09] Was Live on Grand kind of tied in with that, or was that a separate... I read about Live on Grand, they were talking about awhile ago, to make it just a pedestrian walking area, like with 4th Street, I think it is, in Louisville.

Ben: [00:28:25] I mean, because this is such a big project, you know we started talking to a lot of groups along the way, and a lot of them started thankfully and rightfully so, assuming that it was going to happen. It was a political process and it was a fundraising thing and whatnot, but a lot of the different groups started to make sure that the plans they were working on would complement the space. The city's been really good about that, you know they came up with a downtown kind of design plan. They redid Barstow Street a couple years ago and talked about Grand, and then Grand Avenue as well. They're going to wait and do Grand after the building is up, so that it doesn't get destroyed by construction vehicles and trucks and whatnot coming through there, but it will have a very pedestrian-friendly design, and I know that there was some talk about yes, doing some action on Grand so you could close that end of the street off there and do some different events, and maybe some pedestrian-only areas. I don't think any final decisions have been made on that, but the city's been really good about that. They actually are in charge of the plaza that will be between Hay Market Landing and the confluence arts center, that's still city property. They had some really great listening sessions and got input from people, so that can be a good multi-use space as well. That may do what the Live on Grand thing might have needed to do, or it might be another opportunity a block away to do something else that's slightly different yet.

Chris: [00:30:05] We have covered a lot here, it’s been very interesting. Let's see, so you
mentioned some of the kind of victories. Were there any other benchmark moments
where you just kind of wanted to do a little celebration, where things have worked out
the way you liked?

Ben: [00:30:27] There were just countless little celebrations along the way. I mean, each little victory at the time was huge, because they were. Every victory was a big one, because it was the next step, but there was always one more after that. I remember the
announcement of the referendum on the lawn over at city hall there, that crew came up
and had a little press conference and said, "We're going to take this to the voters," and
that was interesting. Then when we had to go to the county, you know we had been
through the approval process, each committee that approved it. At the city, there were
multiple committees, you had the design and plan commission, you got parks and
waterways, and then finally the city council to get their approval to say it's a good idea,
because that needed to happen before we could go to the state. Then the county had to do the same thing, so we had to sit in the county's budget and finance committee, and that vote went through. Each little thing got to something else, but I remember like we were sitting in the county boardroom the night that they voted to take it to referendum. We had our speakers up there, and everyone was talking and doing their thing, and then we had heard rumblings that it might go to a county referendum as well, but we hoped that they were just rumblings. Sure enough, you know one of the board members says, "Well, I think we should take this to referendum," and he got a second, and there were enough people that voted to say, "Yep, let's do this as a referendum." I just remember turning to the rest of our confluence crew, I'm like, "Okay then, we'll win two referendums, we can do this." At that point, I was just confident enough in what was going on, even that seeming obstacle was just like, "Okay, well we'll just jump a higher hurdle, we got this," and we did. That was just a ridiculously bold, it's probably a stupid thought to have that day, but you know I just, I think we had it, and we did. All the votes showed that people were on our side. Obviously, the state of Wisconsin, when they approved the money, that was a big deal. We were in the budget, then we were out of the budget, and everybody was frantically making calls and working, at that point kind of behind the scenes, because that's just the way that politics has to work sometimes. We were just working on a few people, it wasn't a broad, "Hey everybody, call everybody," that had already happened. We were in the budget, then we were out of the budget, then we were back in the budget, and that was a good feeling. Because that sort of came out of nowhere, to have it disappear from the budget at the state level, that was very unexpected, but again, lots of politics at play on that side. A lot of our state representatives that you think might vote for this project ended up having to vote against it, because it was in with a bunch of the governor's other stuff that they didn't like. It was weird and sloppy, as politics usually is, but it ended the way we needed it to. Yeah, just lots of little victories along the way, and each one kind of helping us get to the next, so they were all good stepping stones, each hurdle got us over the next one, I think.

Chris: [00:33:32] Any other big challenges you want to mention along the way?

Ben: [00:33:33] I think probably the biggest challenge is just the scope of the project and the number of people involved. I mean, you're used to working, here at ECRAC, there are six or seven of us down at the office, you do your thing, you've got your groove and you can rock it out. The same thing happens over at the university, the foundation's got their group, the admin crew's got their, everybody's doing their thing. All of the sudden, all these people are working on the same project, and you've got to come up with a
common language that everyone understands, you get to know the personalities. I'm
one of the crazy ones, so everyone has to deal with me, but just everybody else, so you
learn how to work with each other, you learn what everybody needs. There are times
that we were probably all ready to walk away from the project, you know if it was too
big, too small, is it going to work for this or that? There were times that I know the university was kind of right up on that cliff, there were times when the community was up on that cliff, and we just ultimately said, "No, this project is more important than any one player in it, so let's keep that in mind." I think that was probably the biggest lesson going through this project, is just how to work with all of those different people for such a massive project. In some spots, it was divide and conquer, "You guys are awesome ad fundraising, do it. You guys are great at designing construction, do it. You guys can handle the business plan, do it." You know, it wasn't that everybody had to do everything, we developed that level of trust, and everybody got to go do what they were best at, and then bring it back, and we're stronger because of it.

Chris: [00:35:08] All right, anything else you'd like to mention about the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center or the Confluence Project or the Oxbow Hotel?

Ben: [00:35:17] Just personally, I feel super honored and privileged and lucky to be a part of all three right now. When I came to town, it was great, it was fun, it was a neat project to come here to ACRAC, but to see what's happened over the last 10 years and layer on what's going on in the community, layer on the confluence, like not many people have a chance to be involved in all of those things, getting their hands dirty in all of those
things. I think having all those opportunities presented to me is definitely special, and I
certainly do appreciate it, so there.

Chris: [00:35:54] Any big projects coming up that you'd like?

Ben: [00:35:57] (laughter) No.

Chris: [00:36:00] You don't want to have to pick one?

Ben: [00:36:03] No, leave me alone. No, we're just, we're marching towards confluence. Right now, we're in the process of putting different programming together, different outreach opportunities, finding the partners so we can do the educational components for the community, and just getting all the policies and procedures in place so that we can pack up everything we have here at ECRAC, move it down the street, and then everybody can start playing in this cool new sandbox together.

Chris: [00:36:27] Any big plays coming up that you think would be particularly remarkable?

Ben: [00:36:30] No, and I don't mean that there aren't good things going on, but I mean this is sort of the end of the season right now. It's April, we've got a few events happening here, and then in May there's some dance recitals, but things kind of quiet down in the summer. I'm wrapping up contracts for next season's stuff, and all that will get announced in early June, and then we'll start playing that. Yes, there's lots of stuff to
come, no, I can't tell you about most of it.

Chris: [00:37:04] All right, anything else come to mind that you want to mention.

Ben: [00:37:09] I don't think so, man.

Chris: [00:37:10] All right, thanks a lot.

Ben: [00:37:11] That was good

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