Photo by Suzanne Weiss
By Suzanne Weiss/Director of Public Relations
MANITOWOC, Wis. — Erin LaBonte is adding layers of color to the local landscape.
With a passion for art and an enthusiasm for the place she calls home, the associate professor of art at Silver Lake College has taken the lead in the creation of a dozen eye-catching murals since she moved to the area in 2011.Her artistic touches can be found everywhere from the colorful farmer’s market depiction on the outside of the Washington Street Antique Mall to the painting of a steely-eyed veteran looking down at Manitowoc’s Red Arrow Park.
“Public art can transform an overlooked space into a point of pride,” she said. “There is a joy in encountering art where you least expect it. Creating art in public spaces makes art accessible to all people.”
That’s not the only way that she has helped beautify the community.
LaBonte also has served on the board of directors for Mainly Manitowoc, and as chair of its ArtSPLASH committee, worked to install artwork in empty storefront windows in downtown Manitowoc. This committee also wrote the Wisconsin Arts Grant that funded Manitowoc’s first mural.
“I had no idea at that time that more murals would be popping up around Manitowoc soon, and that I would contribute as a driving force,” she said. “All of the mural projects I have led have been collaborative, involving people of all ages, who have participated in and enjoyed the art-making process.”
LaBonte, who promotes area art and artists as a member of the Lakeshore Artists Guild, opens the doors to Silver Lake College’s art department for the group’s area art studio tour.
She also is on the education committee for the Spirit of the Rivers project, a collaborative undertaking to create a huge bronze sculpture of the area’s earliest inhabitants, which will be installed on the Lake Michigan shore between Manitowoc and Two Rivers.
When downtown Manitowoc held its Ice on the 8th winter festival last February, LaBonte and her art students — donning warm hats and gloves — were right there, carving ice sculptures that lined the street for all to enjoy. They plan to do so again this year on Feb. 11.
“Manitowoc has been really inviting and has allowed me to get involved. I am grateful to have been a part of so many successful projects and have had the opportunity to collaborate with so many talented people. I truly enjoy being an active community member,” she said.
From various institutions including the Rahr-West Art Museum and the Wisconsin Maritime Museum to events such as Acoustic Fest and Heart-A-Rama, Manitowoc’s American Heart Association fundraiser, LaBonte has lent an artistic hand.
“As I am growing as an artist and educator, my interest in locking myself into my studio and working alone has transformed into opening up as many doors to as many people as I can. I am less and less concerned with my own art and more interested in making sure that art is being made generally by others and sharing its creative urgency. Art is validating to its makers — my students in particular. It inspires creativity and a sense of wonder in entire communities and brings them together in shared heritage.”
LaBonte earned her Master of Fine Arts from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. She has participated in artistic residencies and exhibitions both nationally and internationally. LaBonte practices many artistic mediums in her own studio work, specializing in photography, painting, installation and sculpture.
She is an advocate for bringing art to public spaces and community engagement. Through the many technical and conceptual facets that art has to offer, LaBonte is dedicated to inspiring and educating young artists in their personal explorations.