Building a destination: The Cultural Commons
By Kris Leonhardt
As the pavers are laid in the interactive and education space, we begin a series of articles on the various aspects of the Cultural Commons. The series will continue, leading up to the spring grand opening of what organizers hope to become a destination location.
STEVENS POINT – The Cultural Commons, like many other significant projects, started with a small beginning and a big idea.
“There are other ‘friendship gardens,’” explained Susan Zach of the Stevens Point Rostov Veliky, Russia Sister City Project. “The city of La Crosse has one on the Mississippi River and it is called the International Friendship Garden. They have seven sister partner cities and it is just gorgeous, beautiful. It is a destination; people don’t just see it, many go down to the river to see it once they’ve heard about it.
“Our son was going to school at (UW-La Crosse), and of course, I’ve been involved in the Russian Sister City project since 1983 when we started. So, I really was interested, and I saw the parallels of being on the Wisconsin River. I was always hoping that would be the site we could have, not that particular spot, but somewhere along the river because the views were stunning.”
Zach met with the sister city leaders of the Gulcz, Poland project and the Esteli, Nicaragua partner city.
“I think at the time, it was pretty much the leaders of the three sister partner cities. I called each one, and we met at the Coffee Studio,” Zach recalled.
One year later, in 2014, the Rotary Club of Stevens Point came on board.
“They were looking for a project to mark their 100 years in Stevens Point,” Zach added. “In 2017, the Rotary Club of Stevens Point marked 100 years in Stevens Point. So, they looked at some other projects, then looked at ours, and decided that they wanted (to assist.)
“At first, we were calling it International Friendship Garden, because I like that, I liked what it said – that’s what our people-to-people sister partner city has been all about. But, we went back to the drawing board, and I love our name our name, the Cultural Commons.
“That was actually suggested by the architect, Aaron Kadoch. He grew up out east and he is familiar with ‘the commons’ on the East Coast where a lot of life happens, a lot of back-and-forth, and when he paired Cultural Commons with it, I thought ‘Boy that just really gets it – the essence of what we are about.’”
The garden is currently being constructed along the Wisconsin River at Pfiffner Pioneer Park in Stevens Point. Like the La Crosse garden, organizers and supporters hope that the space will become a destination for residents and visitors alike.
“The idea of this will become a destination,” said Trish Mrozek. “It will become a destination point. Also, when people come into the area for conventions or visiting families, with the pavers I’ve done, I am going to send family members there to see the pavers.”
Pavers are currently being installed to form a walking path through the Cultural Commons. Donors customize the 24” x 12” x 2” or 12” x 12” x 2” stones with a family name or to honor their heritage, a loved one, business, or organization.
The pavers are an ongoing donation program as the project advances.
Zach credits the community for bringing the garden to fruition. “A lot of good ideas die on paper if they don’t have the people to put them into action,” she said.
Next week: The rice men