Community celebrates symbolic groundbreaking for Cultural Commons
By Joe Bachman
“I can honestly say that never in my wildest dreams that I thought I would be standing here today.” – Amy Wiza
STEVENS POINT — Members of the Cultural Commons project didn’t let mother nature stand in their way, as due to inclement weather, moved close to a hundred people into Graffiti’s Sports Pub on Wednesday afternoon for a celebration of the Cultural Commons gardens.
Those within this Pfiffner Park project seek to build a bridge between communities in Wisconsin, Nicaragua, Russia and Poland. On Wednesday, they celebrated a groundbreaking for the new gardens to celebrate such a cultural diversity and connection between neighborhoods, spreads thousands of miles apart.
These gardens will serve as a symbol of cultures from three different sister cities; Esteli, Nicaragua, Gulcz, Poland, and Rostov Veliky, Russia. The ultimate goal is to not only create an outdoor space for residents to enjoy these cultures, but to learn about areas of the globe spread apart through thousands of miles.
“This has been a culmination of over three years of work by a very large group of dedicated people,” said Stevens Point Rotary Club representative Nick Inman. “…This is something that will impact the community in a very positive way.”
These gardens have been gifted by members of the Rotary Club of Stevens Point, the Russian Sister City Project, the Polish Sister City, the Nicaragua Partner City, and various donors. The ultimate goal is to not just connect communities across continents, but to unify these cities as a part of a wider vision that life and culture flourishes in and out of Stevens Point.
“The thing that makes me the most excited about the cultural commons project is the partnership that it represents, both physically and culturally,” said Mayor Mike Wiza. “The people are the most important part — the people that we meet through our sister cities that I’ve had the chance to experience over the past couple of years — you can’t put a value on that.”
“By deciding to call our gardens the cultural commons we wish to represent, honor, and encourage all efforts to move beyond borders — national, cultural, language, local, personal – to find a common ground.” said Susan Zach, co-chair of the Russian Sister City Project.
While the garden and educational space may represent beauty and culture between countries, for Nicaraguan-born Al Gomez, of Esteli, this groundbreaking holds a much deeper meaning. Nicaragua is currently going through a state of political unrest, as up to 80 Nicaraguans have died in anti-government protests this year.
These protests have stemmed partially from cuts made to social security and pensions by President Daniel Ortega. Since then, thousands have flooded the streets in demonstrations at Managua, the nation’s capitol, against a government many feel is edging closer to a dictatorship.
“We have 80 people killed protesting for democracy, so it’s unbelievable that I’m here standing and watching all of you, and share with you what we’re going through,” said Gomez. “On behalf of our city, I am thankful for all of your work….we are so grateful that you guys are here.”
One supporter, Old National Bank Branch Manager Marg Simkowski, expressed excitement over the project, as well as the future of the gardens which will encourage diversity, inclusion, and revitalization.
“There are many reasons we decided to engage in this project. One is Diversity and Inclusion – which are cornerstones of our values at Old National Bank. We believe the unique contribution every member of the community has to offer builds a strong culture – so pledging our support to the Cultural Commons Project is a natural fit,” said Simkowski. “We are thrilled to be part of a project that focuses on revitalizing the downtown, providing spaces for reflection, education and community while adding to our scenic Wisconsin River and Green Circle Trail. Our CEO says that the role of a community bank means the community is better because we are there and we hope our engagement in the project will do just that.”