Making It Home

How do the land and water of Wisconsin shape the ways people live and build communities here? And how has our human presence changed the landscape over time?

Wisconsin was home to some of the nation’s most famous thinkers and advocates for conservation. The Wisconsin Humanities Council’s statewide initiative, “Making It Home,” prompted all of us to reflect on our relationship to this place we call home.

Making it Home logo with waterskiers in pyramid formation from the Wisconsin DellsStarting in 2008, organizations around the state received WHC grants for projects that  explored some of the many ways Wisconsin’s people have lived on and thought about the land. In their efforts, we saw the tradition of Wisconsinites like John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Sigurd Olson alive today.

The WHC also invited local partners to host Making It Home film festivals in Baraboo, Dodgeville, Milwaukee and Chequamegon Bay (Ashland/Bayfield) in 2010. With partners in six other communities, we toured the “Key Ingredients: America by Food” Smithsonian traveling exhibition, connecting food to place and culture, in 2010-11. And educators from around the state were brought together for regional cultural tours. These K-12 teachers studied present and past relationships of Wisconsinites to the land, and how they could use place-based teaching with their students.

Major funds for this initiative came from “We the People” grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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Making It Home Grant-Funded Projects

From 2008-12, more than thirty projects were supported by Wisconsin Humanities Council grants. Here are some wonderful examples of public humanities programs that explore the complexity of our relationship with the environment.

Greenfire: A Film about the Life and Legacy of Aldo Leopold

This film was produced by the Aldo Leopold Foundation to share the ideas of this founder of conservationism with a national audience. Contemporary concerns about the effects we are having on the planet make Leopold’s work relevant today. His writing and life continue to influence conservationists around the country and world. The film is narrated by Curt Meine, who wrote the seminal biography of Leopold.

The Aldo Leopold Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin, also hosts Land Ethic Leaders Trainings for community leaders from across the country. Participants go back to their communities where they help community members have productive literature and film-based discussions about what Leopold called “the land community.”

Ojibway Lifeways: An Historical and Cultural Experience

For four days every year, 10 high school students from Prescott go for a cultural exchange on the Lac Du Flambeau Indian Reservation. They learn about the Ojibwe people from tribal elders, artists and musicians. They also are part of a service project on the reservation. When they come home, they organize community events and produce a show for the local cable channel to share what they learned.

The exchange is organized by Jeff Ryan, a social studies teacher in the Prescott School District. Over the past ten years, more than 200 students have had this life-changing experience. Students are selected based on an anonymous essay about why they want to go. The group is chosen to include students who range in backgrounds. This sophisticated cultural exchange is not only very memorable for the students, it is a celebrated model for teaching Native American history and socials studies.

Lock Tender Stories: An Oral History Project

The Fox and Lower Wisconsin Rivers are home to a very unusual hand-operated lock system. It is one of only two left in the United States. Locks are used to maintain and adjust water levels so that rivers can be more navigable. The people who tended the locks have a unique job and lifestyle. Their stories are connected to the region’s history and to the feats of engineering in the 1800s that changed trade routes and development in Wisconsin.

A community-based organization called the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway collected oral histories from living members of lock tender families. The goal was to use these stories to connect people with this special piece of Wisconsin history and with each other. It has done that and more, creating awareness statewide of this unique cultural and geographic story.

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Making Wisconsin Home Cultural Tours for Teachers

Educators from around Wisconsin came together for three regional Making It Home tours built upon the belief that resources and content for teaching exist all around us. Teachers learned from humanities scholars and local experts about the local environment, the landscape, family stories, traditional music and art, community history and contemporary social issues.

The Ashland-Chequamegon Bay Tour (2008) immersed participants in activities that included a visit to a birch regeneration area with a U.S. Forest Service staff member and a member of the Red Cliff tribe.

They also visited a fish processing plant operated by a long-time fishing family in the area, and toured Washburn, the state’s first eco-municipality.

In Milwaukee (2008), the five-day tour included a boat ride along two of the city’s rivers to better understand their role in the area’s cultural and commercial history. Teachers went to the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center to see how the group is reinvigorating the neighborhood’s river corridor. They also met with Will Allen at Growing Power, a city farm whose intensive urban agriculture practices are recognized internationally.

In 2009, a tour in the Kickapoo Valley in southwestern Wisconsin was produced in partnership with the Friends of the Kickapoo Valley Reserve. Teachers learned from residents, humanists and local experts about a federal dam project that altered the area’s history and landscape – although the dam was never completed. They paddled the Kickapoo River and talked to families who lost their farms to the project. The area is also home to a national organic farming movement and has a strong heritage of co-operative agriculture. In the neighboring Cheyenne Valley, the group dug into the history of a rural African American community established in the 19th century.

Tours were developed through a partnership between the Wisconsin Humanities Council, Wisconsin Arts Board, Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures at UW-Madison and Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture.

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Making Wisconsin Home Film Festivals

A Ringling Theater in Baraboo hosted the opening night of the Making It Home film festival.In 2010, Making Wisconsin Home Film Festivals brought international and homegrown films to three Wisconsin towns and a Milwaukee neighborhood. Local hosts selected the films they felt would inspire conversation in their communities. All events were free.

The first festival was in Baraboo during Aldo Leopold Days. Festivals in Dodgeville, Milwaukee, and on the Chequamegon Bay (on Earth Day weekend) all provoked conversation about the connections between people and place. Discussions following the films were moderated by community leaders who encouraged lively, thoughtful talk of related local concerns. Up north after one film it was about wolves. In Dodgeville it was about water quality.

The Making It Home film festivals celebrated cultural and historical ties that bind us together. As part of this exploration, we were also made aware of the environmental and social justice challenges we face as communities, as a state, and globally.

Our local partners made the festivals possible. They provided regional expertise and unwavering commitment to the project. They brought together local volunteers, sponsors, and countless resources to make each festival a true expression of the local place, people, and culture.

In Baraboo, the Making It Home Film Festival was produced by:

  • UW-Baraboo/Sauk County
  • Aldo Leopold Foundation
  • Al Ringling Theatre
  • Wormfarm Institute
  • Sauk County Land Conservation Department
  • Youth Environmental Projects of Sauk County (YEPS Program of UW-Extension)
  • International Crane Foundation
  • The local Girl Scouts
  • We would also like to thank local sponsors Culver’s, Glacier Rock Restaurant and The Clarion Hotel

In Dodgeville, the Making It Home Film Festival was produced by:

  • Dodgeville Chamber of Commerce
  • Iowa County UW-Extension
  • Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area
  • We would also like to thank local sponsors: Dodge Theatre, Folklore Village, Uplands Garden Club, Sustain Iowa County, Grassroots Citizens of Wisconsin, Linens & Accents, Dodgeville Veterinary Service, Master Gardener, Harry and Laura Nohr Chapter of Trout Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Blue Mounds Area Project, Pizza Hut, and the Dodgeville Public Library.

In Milwaukee, the Making It Home Film Festival was produced by:

  • Milwaukee Film
  • Urban Ecology Center

In Chequamegon Bay, the Making It Home Film Festival was produced by:

  • Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center
  • Friends of the Center Alliance
  • Bay Area Film Society
  • Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute
  • United States Forest Service
  • University of Wisconsin-Extension
  • Wisconsin State Historical Society
  • Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce
  • Bayfield County Tourism and Recreation
  • Chequamegon Audubon
  • Chequamegon Bay Birders

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We partnered with Tales from Planet Earth Environmental Film Festival, which is produced by the Nelson Institute’s Center for History, Culture and the Environment at UW-Madison. Through this partnership, we were able to secure many of the films.

All film events at Making It Home Film Festivals were free.