One of Wisconsin’s oldest arts education programs, the School of the Arts at Rhinelander, soon will begin its 52nd year. The July 17-19 weekend will feature workshops in visual, culinary, writing and performing arts.
This program is no ordinary weekend workshop. Over five decades, the northwoods getaway has helped draw powerhouse authors to its faculty, including Robert Bly, Archibald MacLeish, Studs Terkel, Dale Wasserman and Marc Connelly, the playwright and a member of the legendary New York circle of wits, the Algonquin Round Table.
“One of the things that we’ve been able to continue through all these years is this underlying sense of community,” says program director Lynn Tarnoff. “It’s a great space for people to really take risks and share their souls with one another.”
As much a summer artists’ colony as an organization, the School of the Arts at Rhinelander has drawn participants and instructors from across the country. Its former artist in residence, the late August Derleth, is perhaps best known today for rescuing the works of H.P. Lovecraft from obscurity, and for expanding Lovecraft’s “Cthulu mythos,” an elaborate series of stories in the genre of Gothic fiction.
Jerry Apps was first a student, then a teacher, and today is one of Wisconsin’s best-known authors. A documentary based on his book, “A Farm Story,” aired on PBS in 2013.
“I taught various nonfiction courses from article writing to book writing and lots of other topics from 1971 to 2003,” he recalls. “I met hundreds of wonderful writers from all walks of life. Some would become well-known writers. Others were happy to write something for their family.”
The goal always has been to encourage the artist in everyone. Today arts workshops are everywhere but when it was founded in 1964, the School of the Arts at Rhinelander was a rarity, nationally and certainly in Wisconsin.
The school is operated by the UW Division of Continuing Studies. For many years it was two weeks long, but modern students prefer a shorter schedule. Workshops are pitched at varying levels, so participants can create at the pace that’s right for them. Everyone is welcome, from newcomers to professionals.
And then there are those who attend for reasons other than learning.
“I remember fondly the Twin Cities woman who was in my class one year,” says Apps. “I asked students to say a word or two about what they hoped to gain from my workshop — why they were enrolled. Most said something about their writing goals, large and small. But the Twin Cities woman said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to write anything, I just like being around writers.’”
Financial aid is available. For more information, visit continuingstudies.wisc.edu/conferences.