Local News

Art league education coordinator is artist herself

- Those who stop in at the Highlands Art League are likely to meet Megan Ekenstedt -- art instructor, education coordinator and interim manager -- a bubbly 28-year-old who left her home state of Wisconsin and just drove south.

Actually, she had a plan before she hit the road about three years ago.

Her aunt and uncle had retired in Sebring, and the budding photographer, who specializes in surreal imagery that is strongly influenced by her community theater background, figured if she didn't leave Wisconsin then, she'd never get out.

One day, she bundled her things in her car, rounded up her cat, and drove to Sebring.

A University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire graduate with a bachelor's of fine art degree in photography, Ekenstedt did some photography gigs but she had to travel to places like Brandon, didn't get full-time assignments and had to do more sales than actual shooting.

A lover of the arts -- from acrylic painting to singing and dancing in musicals -- Ekenstedt was looking to be around artists.

She found herself involved with the art league -- first as a volunteer, then as an art teacher and now as a "catch-all" person, who teaches painting at the Uncorked Class sessions, helps set up the art league's monthly receptions and even fixes a broken toilet if it's nothing too big.

And she's having fun, she said.

One of her priorities is to help expand the art league's art education opportunities, and she is trying to set up all-day summer art classes and offer courses in photography for both adults and kids.

Artist and long-time art league member Linda Kegley described Ekenstedt as a "big asset to the art league and a joy to be around."

Kegley met Ekenstedt when she started volunteering at the art league and helping out with the kids' activities.

"She's an artist herself," Kegley said. She has a "sunny disposition," Kegley said, and can relate to all ages.

Last year, the veteran artist's Art Uncorked classes brought in 700 people who came to paint over wine and finger food.

Ekenstedt, who now does some of the Art Uncorked classes, has a following of her own, Kegley said.

"She's wearing a lot of hats," Kegley said. "She does whatever you ask."

a student as the University of Wisconsin, she was involved in a unique cultural exchange project that also gave her a "tremendous" amount of hands-of experience.

Students from Latvia and the University of Wisconsin had to interpret each other's country's music, which culminated in an international photography exhibit, which Ekenstedt helped set up at the Latvian Embassy in Washington D.C.

Ekenstedt was one of among five University of Wisconsin students and two faculty members, who presented lectures with students and faculty from the Latvian Culture College.

The American students worked with students from the Latvian Culture College to share and interpret visual culture between the two countries.

"Cultural Perceptions" - a series of photographs - was then exhibited in Riga, Latvia; at the Latvian Culture College and Museum of Foreign Art and at UW-Eau Claire. Live feed video connected the students from both parts of the world as they simultaneously presented the same artworks.

This was not the first international exposure for the daughter of teachers, who traveled widely. Ekenstedt spent the first few years in Indonesia.

Her mother is in Africa right now, teaching, and her brother is in graduate school in Denmark.

Actually, Ekenstedt also has several aunts and uncles molding young minds in classrooms.

Considering her family tradition, she did consider going that way, then asked herself one day: "Am I doing this because that's all I know. Is this what I want to do?"

Ekenstedt hasn't ruled out a carer in teaching down the road.

Ironically, the Art Uncorked classes she's taught have inspired her, she said.

For now, she's doing her part to make art more accessible to the community, she said.