University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Oct. 15, 2004


Third Annual Forum Focuses on Sense of Community

The concepts of community and place have many meanings to different people. An exploration of what creates a sense of community is the topic of the third annual St. Croix Valley community forum, "Better Together: The Experience of Place," on Tuesday, Nov. 16, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Phipps Center for the Arts in Hudson.

Society is affected by instant communication, urbanization, ease of mobility, and rapid technological change. While these changes can connect—or disconnect—us, people yearn for a sense of belonging and interdependence.

This issue is especially relevant for the bi-state region of the St. Croix Valley, as identified in past community forums sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, as the area transforms from a once primarily rural area to a suburban area.

Through an art exhibition, performances, and discussions—the forum will address questions such as what creates community, does where we live matter, how to foster the spirit of connection among neighbors, and how lifestyle choices fit within the region's rural roots and urban future. All events are free and open to the public.

The forum features keynote speaker Lewis M. Feldstein, president of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and co-author with Robert D. Putnam of the book, "Better Together: Restoring the American Community" (http://www.bettertogether.org/feldstein.htm).

In the book, Feldstein and Putnam take readers on a journey through the United States that reflects the creation of "social capital," or the development of networks of relationships that weave individuals into groups and communities. The book profiles groups from an evangelical church in southern California with more than 45,000 members to a middle school in Wisconsin where students carry out local improvement projects. Common to all these situations, Feldstein says, is that they all involve making connections among people and establishing bonds of trust and understanding. The intrinsic benefit is that people in these networks can reach goals that would have been far beyond their grasp as individuals.

At the same time, these people enjoy the satisfaction and sense of being part of a community. Social capital can range from a coffee klatch, bridge club, softball team or a support group to a civic group, professional association, trade union or a political organization and beyond. Social capital is a powerful tool, says Feldstein, but whether or not it is put to good use or ill will is another issue.

Feldstein worked with the civil rights movement in Mississippi and served for seven years in senior staff positions to New York City Mayor John V. Lindsay. Prior to coming to NHCF, Feldstein served as provost of the Antioch/New England Graduate School. He is a graduate of Brown University and holds a master’s degree in law and diplomacy from Tufts University. Among his singular achievements were a seven-year tenure as the MC of the International Zucchini Festival and a stint as a wine steward/personal assistant to John Wayne on his yacht in the Mediterranean.

Feldstein serves on the boards of directors for the Independent Sector and the National Center for Family Philanthropy. He co-chaired a Harvard University three-year executive seminar, Saguaro Seminar: Civic Engagement in America. The recipient of six honorary doctorates, he was also selected as one of the 100 People Who Shaped New Hampshire by the Concord Monitor, and one of the 10 most influential people in New Hampshire by Business NH Magazine in 2001. He lives in Hancock, NH.

Feldstein's presentation will be preceded by the music of local composer Chris Silver and followed by a panel discussion including David Griffith, president, St. Croix Valley Foundation; Virgil Nylander, interim chancellor, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, and John Potter, executive director of the Phipps Center for the Arts.

The forum is preceded by the exhibit opening, reception and open microphone event featuring St. Croix Valley artists and performers from 5 to 7 p.m. The exhibition of visual artists' interpretations of place runs through Dec. 12 in the Phipps' galleries.

The forum is presented by UW-River Falls College of Arts and Sciences in collaboration with the Phipps Center for the Arts and the St. Croix Valley Community Foundation. It is funded by in part by a grant from the Wisconsin Humanities Council, with funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this project do not necessarily represent those of the NEH. Assistance for the exhibition was provided by the Wisconsin Arts Board.

The Phipps Center for the Arts is located 15 miles east of St. Paul in downtown Hudson, Wis. on Locust Street near the Lakefront Park.

For more information contact Linda Jacobson, UW-RF College of Arts and Sciences outreach manager, 715/425-3256, 800/228-5607, linda.r.jacobson@uwrf.edu.

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Editor's Note: Lewis Feldstein will be available for media interviews by telephone prior to the forum. Contact Aria Neukam, 603/225-6641 to schedule a media interview.


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