Keep the Fire Burning Bright

by John Bloner, Jr.

My friend, composer Karel Suchy, calls it KeRacine, pronouncing the word, in his cool Czech accent, like you’d say, “ker-o-sene.” With this term, he’s referring to the Wisconsin cities of Kenosha and Racine, but it’s more than a mashup of names for him. He’s talking about a powerful energy, fueled by the the creative culture that burns bright here.

I was born in Kenosha, but I spend my life in KeRacine. I own a home in Kenosha and rent an art studio in the Racine Arts and Business Center, home to 16th Street Studios. I’m one of over sixty artists in this Cream City brick building, known for its tall windows, providing an abundance of natural light, and for its history, dating back to 1865.

KeRacine is not just a place. It’s a state of mind. Over a decade ago, a Wisconsin Arts Board (WAB) representative met with Kenosha and Racine artists to encourage collaborations between them.

WAB’s initiative has had a profound impact. It led to the formation of get bEHIND the aRTS, a popular annual event (on hiatus due to the pandemic) in which artists open their studios for public tours.

Rebecca Venn and Maureen Fritchen share a laugh while setting up for the 2011 get bEHIND the aRTS studio tours.

I was inspired by WAB’s call. It led me in 2011 to launch the Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program. I recruited institutions and individuals to form an organization to recognize and work with poets who are making an impact on our diverse communities. In its 10th year, these poets who have worn the laurel wreath have visited our schools, libraries, museums, prisons, parks, and performance spaces to help us digest complex emotions, view the world from new perspectives, and experience common words and phrases as music. Learn more at krpoets.com.

Kenosha/Racine Poets Laureate Program induction ceremony for 2020-2022 honorees at Spectrum School of the Arts, Racine, Wisconsin. Back row from left: Lisa Adamowicz Kless; Debra Hall (Racine Poet Laureate 2020-22); Theonita Cox; Joseph Engel (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2020-22); Jessie Lynn McMains (Racine Poet Laureate 2016-17); Darin Zimpel (Racine Poet Laureate 2011-13); Stephen Kalmar II (Racine Poet Laureate 2011-13); Kenyatta Turner (Racine Poet Laureate 2018-19); John Bloner, Jr. Front row from left: Jean Preston (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2014-15); Nick Ramsey (Racine Poet Laureate 2014-15); and Esteban Colon (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2018-19). Not pictured: Angie Aker (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2011-13); Carly Ravnikar (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2018-19); and Brent Mitchell (Kenosha Poet Laureate 2016-17).

Five years later, some friends and I formed the Kenosha/Racine Area Zine Makers (Krazines), inspired by the KeRacine spirit. Each month, in pre-Covid times, the Krazines has welcomed artists and authors at public venues to create work, which we’ve published in our magazine, Moss Piglet. Our venture continues its call for submissions in 2021. Anyone from across the USA may submit art, prose or poetry for our publication. Learn more at krazines.com.

Krazines’ Art Jam at the Black-Eyed Press, 16th Street Studios, Racine Arts & Business Center

The arts advocacy coalition, ArtRoot, is generally focused on the Racine arts as a tool to reinvigorate the Belle City; however, its Writer-In-Residence program serves to spotlight Racine and Kenosha’s literary community. ArtRoot crowns a new Writer-In-Residence (WIR) every six-months, and gives the honoree a platform to share their work and ideas through a WIR website blog and challenges them to complete a creative project.

ArtRoot recently named me as its 10th Writer-In-Residence. In this role, I am publishing a new article at this website every Thursday and developing special edition publications through the Krazines, focused on illustrative storytelling. The WIR program is supported by the Racine Literacy Council and funded by the Osborne and Scekic Family Foundation.

As a bonus, Karel Suchy and fellow composer Dan Nielsen have dedicated their new piece of music, “ … because I (me too) don’t know any better” to me in honor of my installation as Writer-In-Residence. Their composition premieres on Karel Suchy’s YouTube channel on Saturday, January 30, 2021 at 8:00pm CST.

Do you have the KeRacine spirit? How can me make this spirit grow? I’d love to hear your comments.

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