Jonathon Engelien


Dear Wisconsin Rapids Part II


First off, thank you Wisconsin Rapids,



I was blown away that there were 2,800 unique visitors to my website, all because of a simple letter I wrote to unpack some of the burden I felt leaving Wisconsin Rapids.  I must say that the responses I got were all over the board and I enjoyed every bit of it!  It occurred to me that Wisconsin Rapids is a complex place.  It’s a place where people feel burdened by it and want to get away, and simultaneously it’s a place of great potential where people work very hard at trying to enjoy it and make it a better place to live.  



This is good! Paradox is good! If Wisconsin Rapids is a complex place, then we must own that fact.  We must own up to it and take up our identities as complicated people who have lived through a lot of ranging experiences.  Let’s be true to the fact that many people are jaded and harsh toward the future, while others are optimistic and energized.  Our moment now is to embrace both complex feelings.  This future of ours is no one else’s responsibility, it’s ours.  Jobs are jobs, but at the heart of a town is a community, and we must embrace whatever ours looks like.  Our community is far larger in scope than just the inhabitants of Rapids, it’s also the people who have lived there and left for whatever reason.  I hope that with the future of our efforts, the identity of our region can encapsulate many multifaceted realities.



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For those who don’t know me I’d like to take a moment to tell you why I’m here.  Both of my parents (and even some grandparents and great-grandparents) grew up in Rapids, and thus I did the same, though I didn’t arrive until I was two.  I went to Woodside Elementary, East Junior High, and finally Lincoln High School.  I watched my Father’s job security in the mill waver, then went through my parent’s divorce, and also tried to wrestle with the opportunities in Rapids.  Finally I left for college and moved to the far away land of Minnesota, with the ideas I was never returning.  



I’m twenty-three years old now, still live in the Twin Cities, but came to realize the imprint of Rapids on me a few years ago.  I was finishing up my art degree, and if you check out the artworks on my website, you’ll see a common theme where I create a multitude of post-apocalyptic landscapes and narratives.  One day I was in my art studio, writing my artist thesis titled Apocalyptic Nostalgia, and I was questioning why I was so obsessed  with creating artworks, short stories, and ideas about a post-apocalyptic world where everyone and everything was trying to figure out their own identities.  The answer was more than just post-apocalyptic TV shows and movies were popular.  



It dawned on me in that moment, that who I am, my art, and all of my internal thoughts were a direct product of growing up in Rapids.  I realized that Rapids is a town lost in the shadow of it’s glory days.  It’s a place that seems to question constantly who it was and is, and never quite rises up to the occasion. It is this place of polarizing contradictions.  Rapids is harsh, wild, and in decay, but it is also inviting, stable, and kind.  It’s a place that feels utterly hopeless, but also simultaneously feels like it has all the potential in the world to be something great.  It has immense beauty in its landscape and history, but also feels like it’s washed up and wrung out.  



After feeling like Rapids was the very reason I am who I am, I struggled to find a way to make it a better place.  I came across the Incourage Foundation’s grant to create art for their new Tribune Building, oddly enough through a Minnesota organization. Through the grant I'm making six large scale (for printing) intaglio prints .  I’ll explain more about the art process in later posts, but essentially I’ll be making colored images of the Wisconsin River and underneath the images I’ll be writing a short narrative text to go along with it.  



I look forward to this opportunity and feel incredibly encouraged by the reaction to my “Dear Wisconsin Rapids" post.  I am simultaneously someone who felt jaded and apathetic about Rapids (still do at times), and also someone who cares about it deeply (though not all the time).  



Please leave a comment telling your story and feelings toward Wisconsin Rapids, and then I challenge you to include the ways you are working to develop the community of our town, or the ways you aren’t.  But let’s begin to engage in honest and reconstructive conversations, and take ownership of the place we call or have called home.



Until next time…

Jonathon Engelien


Jonathon Engelien2 Comments