The Arts are Alive in Lake Geneva

By Shelby Deering | Photography by Shanna Wolf

With its abundance of natural beauty and stunning scenery, it’s no wonder that Lake Geneva has been known to inspire creativity, whether in the visual arts, design or literature. In 1882 Poet John Brayshaw Kaye published Songs of Lake Geneva, an homage to the area’s breathtaking forests and waters. Frank Lloyd Wright built the stylish Lake Geneva Hotel along the shoreline downtown. And anyone who spends time in Library Park has witnessed plein air painting by artists, who capture the beauty that surrounds them.

Today, there’s a new guild of area artists who are carrying the torch and continuing Lake Geneva’s creative traditions. The Geneva Lake Arts Foundation (GLAF) brings important cultural experiences to the community through classes, events and exhibits at the foundation’s Gallery 223.

Like the artisans who came before them, GLAF members are still stirred by Lake Geneva’s idyllic surroundings. William Frantz photographs tour boats cutting through Geneva Lake’s waters. Donna Watson captures nature scenes in oil. And Eileen Streu depicts breezy sailboats with her stained-glass creations. These are just a few of the talented individuals whose work is on display at Gallery 223 and who give their time to Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation.

The foundation is making an important impact on residents and visitors alike — members share what moves them, and in turn, others are moved as well.


Over 70 years ago, local artists recognized the need for an organization that would foster cultural expression in the Lakes Area. Back then, it was known as the Geneva Lakes Art Association (GLAA), and in 2014, the group experienced a reincarnation of sorts.

“We became a 501(c)(3) charity in 2014,” explains Nikki Marsicano, who was elected president in 2013.

The group knew that applying for 501(c)(3) status would be an arduous process, but as Marsicano says, “It was important for growth and for our mission to promote the arts, not only in individuals but also in the community. With the status, we could apply for programs and other opportunities.”

Jeanne Dyer, who was president during the transition from the Geneva Lake Art Association to the Geneva Lake Arts Foundation Inc., shares that there were quite a few application forms and meetings with a lawyer to provide guidance, and their hard work paid off — they were granted the nonprofit status on their first try. On July 3, 2014, the Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation officially became a charitable organization.

Dyer says, “The reason we decided to apply for a 501(c)(3) status was to change our organization from an ‘artists’ social club’ to a charitable foundation that was able to encourage area artists and offer increased public awareness and involvement in the arts. This IRS tax exemption status would make it possible for the foundation to solicit contributions to sustain and grow the arts and art enrichment programs, allow us to seek grants from local, state and national foundations, as well as apply for local, state and federal government grants to educate the public and promote the arts in our surrounding communities.”

And that’s exactly what they’ve done. The donations, along with membership dues, gallery fees, sponsorships and proceeds from fundraising events (such as Art in the Park, a juried fine art show — see sidebar) have allowed the organization to flourish, resulting in increased student awards, art show sponsorships and even more demonstrations and community events.

Boasting over 130 members, the organization is marked by its artists who are willing to go above and beyond to bring the arts to the community. Marsicano says that as part of the membership, each person is required to volunteer, whether at an event like Art in the Park or performing assorted duties at Gallery 223.


The Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation has been more and more visible in the community since achieving its 501(c)(3) status. The organization offers many opportunities for both locals and visitors to stretch their creative muscles, especially through the classes they provide, under the direction of Classroom Director Pam Ring.

Taught at the GLAF’s Gallery 223, located in downtown Lake Geneva, there are ongoing classes like oil painting with Ken Cottingham, who has been teaching art for more than 40 years, painting with watercolors led by Sharon Larson, whose work has been included in corporate and private collections, and there are classes for children, too. Pizza with Picasso is a favorite among toddlers to middle schoolers, with kids taking part in art activities while enjoying a pizza party. This summer look for additional classes like a once a month art camp for kids taught by Anne Leback and Elizabeth Wagner, a botanical watercolor class with Lynn Railsback, collage with Pam Ring and beginning drawing with Nikki Marsicano.

Also, this summer the GLAF plans to introduce an art mentoring program to bring the arts to children and adults. According to Marsicano they are seeking sponsorships for this program.

The Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation makes it a goal to inspire artistic endeavors in the next generation, giving awards to local high school students. Art instructors from participating high schools submit a number of art pieces, which are evaluated by a private judge, “not someone from the exhibit committee,” Marsicano explains. The artwork is then presented in a Student Art Show at Gallery 223, where awards are presented. GLAF presents a $500 young emerging artist award and five $100 recognition awards. In addition, students are honored with the following awards: $500 Louis Mergener Memorial Award for outstanding work; $750 Neal and Dotsy Heffernan Award for best in show; and two $500 Martin Smith Memorial Awards for creative work.

Then there are the monthly programs that are free to the public, events that center around demonstrations in which people can witness an artist’s work come to life. Marsicano says, “It’s an opportunity for people to view art and talk about art. I’m always excited when people come in and we start talking about art, whether they’re a professional or not. It’s just a nice way to talk about a piece.”

The organization also holds a number of events that celebrate the local arts, like Art in the Park and special Oktoberfest and Winterfest activities. This year, through the generous support of Pier 290, Winter Art at the Pier was held as a fundraiser for Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation.


One of the main ways the Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation reaches out to the Lakes Area is through Gallery 223.

The gallery opened in its current space at 223 Broad Street in 2016, but before that, it was located one block over on Main Street. As Bart Ziegler, director of Art in the Park, explains, “The new location is more customer-friendly and easier to find for the public.”

Marsicano agrees that the new location is “more visible to the community,” serving as a place where members can showcase their work, participants can take classes and the foundation can carry out meetings and other business. But first, they had to make the move, a story that Marsicano says is a testament to how dedicated members are to the organization.

She says, “We did the new flooring the week of Christmas, and then we moved everything from Main Street to 223 Broad Street. We thought it would take a couple days — we did it in three hours. The members came with trucks, and they pulled glass cases in garden wagons down Main Street. We spackled and painted walls, installed lighting and hanging systems and built display panels. Our goal was to open by Winterfest, which we did. Our membership really came through.”

Sarah McConnell is the exhibit chair of the gallery, Dawn Kist is the exhibit co-chair and there’s also a committee of volunteers who arrange and hang the artwork. McConnell says, “Gallery 223 is a unique art venue for both artists and anyone that enjoys visual art. It provides regional artists of all levels a professional gallery setting to sell their work in a highly-desirable location. For visitors to the gallery, it provides the opportunity to view and purchase a wide variety of original artwork.”


One of the notable things about Gallery 223 is that every eight weeks, there’s a fresh collection of art pieces to admire. “This policy keeps the gallery filled with exciting new artwork,” McConnell says.

Members from areas ranging from Chicago to Milwaukee to the Lakes Area share their work in a space that’s sleek and polished. On average, each exhibit contains the work of 40 to 50 members, displaying a wide variety of art mediums. There are the oils created by Thomas Traush, watercolors painted by Nancy Newcomb, playful ceramics sculpted by Alice Winn, character wood carvings crafted by Dorea Bowen or fine-crafted jewelry made by Sandra Fink May, and this is just a sampling of the masterful artists represented.

All pieces are available for purchase, which provides support to keep the Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation thriving. The organization is grateful that they can continue to offer these artistic, inspiring experiences to the community and to all who visit Lake Geneva.

Marsicano says, “I know that when people come into the gallery, it’s an experience they’re looking for. I think that’s what is kind of great about Lake Geneva. It offers experiences to visitors and also to the residents — coming to our gallery, taking walks, going to a theater and the beautiful lake.”

Don’t Miss Art in the Park on August 11–12, 2018

The crown jewel of the Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation is undoubtedly the beloved Art in the Park event. Held each August, the juried fine art sale, a Lake Geneva tradition for the past 38 years, takes up the expanse of Flat Iron Park. You can discover art in a wide range of categories, which include clay/pottery, fiber, glass, graphics, jewelry, leather, metal, pencil/ pastel, photography, oils/acrylics, sculpture, wood, watercolor and mixed-media. Over 80 artists, some coming from as far as Florida and the Southwest, sell their pieces at this fundraising event.

Bart Ziegler, director of Art in the Park, says that typically around 140 artists apply for the event. Each is subject to a careful selection process, which means meeting several eligibility requirements and exhibition rules. The committee takes around two months to choose the final artists.

In addition to perusing the masterpieces available for purchase, visitors can stop by the Brunk Pavilion to view the work of GLAF members. In a gazebo sponsored by the Lake Geneva Rotary and the Neal and Dotsy Heffernan Foundation, kids can make their own artwork with the help of Geneva Lakes Arts Foundation volunteers. “It’s common to see small children, college students and several generations of a family creating an art piece,” Marsicano says.

Also, don’t miss the silent auction, live music and delicious eats.

Ziegler says, “Art in the Park is a very important cultural event in Lake Geneva. It brings the arts climate front and center.”

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