When Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton steps down on Jan. 3, Wisconsin will be losing one of its all-time strongest supporters of the arts.
"During her eight years in office, Lt. Gov. Lawton has been a tireless advocate for the arts, culture and creativity in all corners of the state," says Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin, a nonprofit advocacy organization.
Lawton attended Lawrence University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her permanent home is in Algoma. The first woman elected as Wisconsin's lieutenant governor was born in 1951.
When she took office, Gov. Jim Doyle asked Lawton if she would chair the state Arts Board. "It was something that interested me a great deal," she recalls.
She now considers her arts work over two terms one of her tenure's greatest achievements. Lawton crisscrossed the state and country, bolstering "the creative economy," the idea that dynamic, high-tech workers and industries are lured to communities that have strong commitments to the arts and culture.
Lawton argues that the arts must be a part of economic recovery, nationally and regionally. She points to Eau Claire, which lured two high-tech companies from New York City in 2009.
When the executives were later interviewed, Lawton recalls, "they noted that it was the quality of life and a vibrant cultural life that assured them that they would be able to attract the workforce that they needed for success here."
A great part of that success is likely due to Lawton. "She's done a great job of telling the stories of the benefits, impact and power of the arts as 'part of the solution' for Wisconsin," says Katz.
Lawton speaks highly of her staff. "The Arts Board has really grown in its impact on the economic development across the state over the last eight years," she says. "This Arts Board has been held up as a real model for the nation in many ways."
Her signature film tax-credit program was sharply scaled back by Doyle, but Lawton is hopeful the next administration will continue to make the arts a priority.
As for her own future, she's been too busy to plan. "And I'm not being coy!" she notes, laughing. However, she expects to remain a strong arts advocate.
"I think that once you realize how important it is to the state and regional economies, you can't turn back," she says. "It will always be a part of my life in one way or another."