RISE UP Central Wisconsin :: Community-Based Art at Its Best

Written by Jessica Meadows

Building healthy places can look like:

  • New bike paths,
  • Improved food systems, and
  • Affordable housing.

It can also look like:

  • Unlikely partnerships and deep community engagement — like hospitals, health departments, and community development leaders working alongside residents and artists to create inspiring pieces of public art!

In Marathon County, this approach to health isn’t theoretical… It’s a growing effort called:

RISE UP — Heal. Strengthen. Unify.

And it’s gained momentum in the Wausau community.


Through the creation of community-driven participatory art, RISE UP builds connections to each other — individuals, artists, community members, and service providers, as well as city, county, and state government.

You see, RISE UP was created by a diverse group of caring citizens who were looking for a different approach to heal, strengthen, and unify our community.

Their medium?


RISE UP is about people coming together and transforming not only a piece of art, but themselves and our community. A group works on the ongoing RISE UP project at Aspirus in Wausau.

As a non-profit group, the RISE UP team has been organizing since early 2017, planning, meeting, and connecting with diverse groups across the country to create a program tailored to Central Wisconsin.

Inspired by a similar project in Philadelphia called Porchlight, RISE UP members are from across Marathon County, all with the same vision — to improve health outcomes for individuals by building stronger alliances between service providers and communities while reducing the stigma around those in recovery to increase their participation in recovery services in Marathon County.

The RISE UP Central WI Steering Committee trained in Philadelphia, PA, with Philadelphia Mural Arts and the Porchlight Program in late 2017.

RISE UP aims to build a team of artists, service providers, program participants, and other community and city-wide stakeholders to collaborate on transformative public art projects. These connections are powerful forces in making our communities vibrant, healthy, and strong.

The program strives to:

  • Catalyze positive changes in the community
  • Improve the physical environment
  • Create opportunities for social connectedness
  • Develop skills to enhance resilience and recovery
  • Promote community and social inclusion

RISE UP works closely with communities to uplift public art as an expression of community resilience and a vehicle of community and personal healing.

The journey that every RISE UP participant is on is unique and very personal. Participants are able to gain confidence, feel supported, and form new bonds and friendships — not just with individual people but with their whole community.

RISE UP also strives to consistently engage approximately 30 individuals receiving behavioral health and social services in weekly art workshops and a final public art piece. Each project takes approximately 9–12 months from the initial Engage phase to the Create phase and ultimately to the Generate phase:

  • Engage — ​The engage phase is defined as the initial relationship-building process whereby artists, participants, agency staff, community members, and RISE UP staff forge connections and understanding. This phase includes many different activities, including dialogues, poetry writing sessions, community meetings, mural theme discussions, dancing, drum circles, textile weaving, collage creation, and discussion of individual and community strengths, challenges, identity, and history.
  • Create — After trust has been established among the project stakeholders, the artist begins to build a deliberate visual language for the project. This language can be achieved in various ways, such as having participants trace images, conduct freehand drawings, or create visual patterns. Participant artwork is compiled, combined, and even layered as the participants, including community members, begin to build a collective vision for the project.
  • Generate — The final phase of the work completes the mural. At the beginning of this phase, the Lead Artist crafts a complete mural image from the imagery developed during the Create phase. After a series of community design discussions and formal Design Reviews held by the RISE UP Review Board, the final mural image takes shape. The specific image is then transformed into a massively scaled image that is hand-painted by the many community stakeholders and participants involved in the project.
A Community Paint Day held during Chalkfest in July 2018 at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art put together the initial stages of outlining and filling of a large-scale mural on 5 x 5 foot sheets.

HUNDREDS of people recently helped bring a local RISE UP project to life.

People of all ages gathered at the Wausau Museum of Contemporary Art during one of Wausau’s most popular weekends that included Chalkfest to help paint a mural project organized by RISE UP. Local “artists” used pre-mixed paint to add color to the sketched mural. The art project, once finished, will be permanently displayed at Aspirus Wausau Hospital.

Other current projects include a large-scale mural project being worked on by clients at Lakeside Recovery, an addiction recovery program operated by North Central Health Care in Wausau.

Interested in helping at a Community Paint Day?

Join RISE UP for two upcoming Community Paint Days and help paint the Aspirus mural!

  • Saturday, August 4, from 2:00 to 5:00 p.m. in Downtown Wausau at the 400 Block Park, in conjunction with the Unity concert and event.
  • Thursday, August 9, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Aspirus Farmer’s Market: 2727 Plaza Drive, Wausau (Map)

More information on RISE UP Central Wisconsin (or how YOU can get involved) can be found at www.RISEupart.org and on Facebook @RISEUPCentralWI.

Or check out their video below…

Jessica_MeadowsJessica Meadows

Communications & Marketing Coordinator  |  North Central Health Care

As the Communications and Marketing Coordinator at North Central Health Care (NCHC), Jessica Meadows is passionate about being able to use her creative talents to connect people to healthcare, resources, and networking that will impact their life in a positive way. Prior to joining NCHC, she was a Creative Director and leader at a marketing agency in the Stevens Point area. With almost 20 years’ experience in print, web, social media, video, radio, and public relations, it was important for her to connect back to her roots here in the Wausau area, where she and her husband raise their two young children. When she’s not busy at an event or volunteering, she enjoys playing sports, coaching, biking, traveling, and exploring the outdoors.  Email Jessica Meadows.

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