Looking Back and Looking Ahead | wisconsinacademy.org
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Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Photo of Jane Elder in front of Academy offices

When I was handed a key to the Academy office building in January of 2012, I had no idea it would be the beginning of a ten-year journey. And what a journey it has been.

As this will be my last column in the magazine as executive director, I want to say thank you to every donor, member, sponsor, grant-making organization, partner organization, volunteer, and board member who has helped us build on the foundation (laid in 1870) of this wonderful organization. It has been my honor to continue this work to bring curious and creative people together to amplify powerful ideas in the sciences, arts, and letters—ideas that make Wisconsin better.

As someone who resists being put into neat categories, I have loved working on projects across the spectrum of the sciences, arts, and letters—and at the intersections between them. One day I can be talking about the poems of the Wisconsin Poet Laureate, the next about forest carbon sequestration, and the next about the accretive process of printmaking. As disparate as these subjects may seem, the ideas behind them are part of the great conversation of expression and knowledge that make our human experience richer, and our world more sustainable.

I have loved being able to collaborate with our gallery team on ways that art, through thoughtful curation, can help us see contemporary issues or navigate complex challenges, or to feel connected to someone’s experience in ways that words often fail to do. It has been an inspiration to read the works of poets and writers whose craft for the written word brings another form of expression that cultivates understanding and helps us experience our world in greater depth.

And, for someone who has labored to protect the living earth for most of my career, I am so grateful to have worked with some of the best minds in Wisconsin on thoughtful analysis of, and strategic guidance for, safeguarding fresh water and grappling with climate change and its impacts. I salute the generosity through which people from many fields of expertise have given their time, insight, and good will in the spirit of collaboration to find pathways for genuine progress.

Behind the scenes, of course, has been all the work that goes into running a functioning nonprofit, from board meetings and budgets to strategic plans and logic models, not to mention fundraising and maintaining a 1930s-era building. While all this work comes with the territory, it was made easier through the efforts of some of the smartest and most dedicated colleagues that an executive director could wish for (especially through some very challenging times). I want to thank them for their extraordinary service.

I hope that during my brief decade at the Academy, which stands on the shoulders of founders such as John Wesley Hoyt, Increase Lapham, and Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, I have carried their vision forward within the context of the times. I also hope that whoever succeeds me as executive director will do the same.

With deep appreciation.



Jane Elder recently retired from her position as Executive Director of the Wisconsin Academy. She brought to the Wisconsin Academy a strong background in public policy leadership, nonprofit management, and involvement in Wisconsin arts.

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Phone: 608.733.6633


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