In 2020, Karen Ek established this Fund to support the piano program at the School District of Ladysmith. Karen’s story shows how one person can play a vital role in creating a vibrant art community in Rusk County.
Karen is a leader for the arts, music, and enrichment programs throughout Rusk County. As Past President of the Flambeau Valley Arts Association, Karen was instrumental in bringing world class music, theater, and dance to Ladysmith and was the community catalyst for two major projects in the area. Karen mobilized financial and volunteer support to create “The Ladysmith Story.” Dr. Gerald Bradshaw, one of Karen’s former students, was the creative force behind the opera. This outstanding success played to 5 sellout venues in Minneapolis, Minnesota as well as Ladysmith, Wisconsin.
Another huge community wide event Karen spearheaded was the arrival of Art Train. This onboard traveling railroad presentation of 60 renowned Native American artists reached out to area communities, schools, and Native American communities for five full days of cultural exchange. It drew 4000 visitors (the fifth highest Art Train attendance in the US)! The exhibit focused on how Native Artists were influenced by modern popular culture as well as commonalities of the Native and non-Native people of North America. The exhibition reflected the greater Native American community, with 45 tribes represented.
Karen was also instrumental in the development of the School District of Ladysmith Enrichment Endowment Fund (LEEF) committee. Wayne and Carol Gullstad, past business owners in Ladysmith who had earlier assisted in creating the piano program, offered to support the LEEF Fund with a “challenge match” of $500,000 with the hopes of a future endowment of $1,000,000. The fund, originally starting with seed money from the Friedel and Rand families, took off under Karen’s leadership. This Fund awards grants for students’ enrichment projects. In large part thanks to Karen’s efforts, this endowment fund will support the enrichment of students forever!
Karen is a retired teacher from the School District of Ladysmith. She has been instrumental in the lives of countless students and has taught many children how to play piano. Everyone in the music and arts community knows Karen, and Karen knows them too. She knows their skills, their aspirations, and how to channel them for the good of the community. But most of all, she knows that subtle creative desire within all of us. That creativity established the Ek Fund for Musical Arts, which will live on forever to support the musical talents of students in the District.