All the Arts for All the People
Ruth Kohler believed in the arts as a source for positive personal and social change. She left a lasting legacy in the community arts programs she established at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center. Through her vision, hundreds of artists and thousands upon thousands of community members have shared creative, sometimes life-altering, experiences.
Ruth gave form to the Arts Center mission of “All the arts for all the people” in 1997, establishing the Connecting Communities program to harness the power of art in uniting and strengthening the region. More than 20 years later, the residency program continues to bring together superb artists and underserved communities in the creation of significant works of art that exceed the level of traditional “community-based” work. Over the years, more than 50 artists have collaborated with victims of domestic violence, carpenters, the Hmong and Latin communities, at-risk youth, senior citizens, school children, the physically disabled, and many others to create performance works, sculpture, murals, and photographic works among others. The M.I.K.E. sculpture on the Sheboygan City Green, the Art in Public Spaces works in downtown Sheboygan, and the Sheboygan Project murals located throughout the city are a few of the works created through Connecting Communities residencies.
In the performing arts, Ruth nurtured artists working in both emerging and traditional styles. Under her leadership, Arts Center audiences experienced an array of music, dance, spoken word, theater, and film that presented an ethnically diverse world view. She incorporated a residency into her performing arts model, allowing the artists to engage with the community during lecture demonstrations for students and community groups, master classes, and performances designed for families to experience together. In addition to the performing arts residency program, Ruth led the Arts Center as it developed free, open-mike summer concerts on its Festival Green, a program that evolved into today’s highly popular Levitt AMP Sheboygan Music Series that draws thousands of music lovers to the Sheboygan City Green.
Having begun her work life as a traveling art teacher in the Beloit, Wisconsin, public schools, Ruth valued the role of the arts in education and reflected that in her ardent support of the Arts Center Preschool. Since 1967, the Preschool has provided a high-quality education program with a unique curriculum focusing on learning through the visual arts, music, and movement. Over the years of Ruth’s leadership at the Arts Center, the Preschool developed a rich learning experience for its three- to five-year-old students that include visits to the exhibition galleries, attending performances, and work with visual and performing guest artists. Today, the 4K class is a partnership with the Sheboygan Area School District and is tuition-free.
Ruth’s vision of a world in which communities collaborate and explore the arts to enrich the lives of all manifested itself in the success of the Arts Center under her leadership and in the lives she touched through her dedication to “All the arts for all the people.”