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Director on stage with arts

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Sunday, January 20, 2008
— Laurel Canan’s life has been punctuated by the arts.

Like the punctuation on this page, the arts have given her life’s journey meaning and clarity.

The arts have helped her through life’s difficult passages and added joyful exclamation points.

In return, Canan has worked to give the arts back to the community.

As executive director of the Janesville Performing Arts Center, she works to create a successful venue for the performing arts, something Janesville didn’t have before.

As the creative manager of Janesville Presents! she works to bring a diverse group of musicians, singers, dancers and actors to JPAC and to local schools. Those are opportunities Janesville residents—and schoolchildren—didn’t have before, at least not in their own area.

Finally, as president of the Janesville Convention and Visitors Bureau Board, she works to establish Janesville as a cultural destination.

All of those jobs are about bringing the arts to the people. What people might not recognize, however, is that much of what Canan does is driven by the desire to bring arts to children.

“I can remember when I was little, I was probably about 5, when my great-grandparents took me to the symphony in Cleveland,” Canan said. “I can remember what I wore; I can still remember the feeling of magic.”

That magic carried her a long way, and she wants to share that with children—especially those who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance.

“I want kids to experience all different kinds of creative artists,” Canan said.

Because of the work of Canan and Janesville Presents!, local schoolchildren have been able to see everything from modern dance to a guitar-weaving duo.

“A lot of people say ‘Those kids will never sit still for that,’” Canan said.

But when the house lights go down, the kids sit in their seats—mesmerized.

Recently, Thodos Dance Chicago, a contemporary dance group, put on an educational program at Wilson Elementary School. During a complicated modern piece, “Sigh,” children as young as 5 stared, transfixed at the dancers’ movements.

She also arranged for the Wilson schoolchildren to see a shortened version of the Armory’s “White Christmas” at JPAC.

Now, if you talk to anybody about Canan, one of the first things they’ll mention is her unflagging devotion to JPAC.

“I like her because she is so passionate about JPAC—she practically lives there,” said Michael Chase, actor and former head of Janesville Presents! “She’s done great things there.”

Making JPAC successful required convincing local arts groups they needed to work together, said Lisa Rienke, who serves on the Janesville Presents! board.

“At first it was ‘This is my mailing list and my patrons and you can’t have it,’” Rienke said. “She really reached out to the different arts groups; she got them to cooperate.”

Now Canan is working with a variety of local arts groups on a joint marketing plan.

“It’s something that’s going to help every user group; it’s fostering the arts community,” Rienke said.

Rienke and Canan go to arts conferences together to learn about new trends and search for new artists.

“When we go to conferences, other people say to us ‘You’re doing what? Wow, that’s great,’” Rienke said.

As for Canan, she keeps working toward a world in which the arts are accessible to everyone. She knows the arts can give life meaning, create joy and help one through difficult times.

Her uncle, Ken Eppich, died of AIDS several years ago. He was an avid collector of art and passionate about the performing arts.

“We had an unbelievably close relationship,” Canan said. “The arts were our outlet for dealing with that disease.”

She hopes JPAC and Janesville Presents! can provide kids with that kind of solace and joy.

“I don’t know what those kids who come here are going through,” Canan said. “But I want them to feel like they’re a part of something that’s magic.”

Age: 46
Community: Janesville
Occupation: Executive director of the Janesville Performing Arts since February 2004 and creative manager for Janesville Presents!

She is also the president of the Janesville Visitors and Convention Bureau Board and is a state captain for Arts Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the arts.

Family: Husband, Jim; and two sons, Robert and Tyler
Education: Associate’s degree in paralegal work, bachelor’s degree in legal administration and master’s degree in public administration
People who have influenced her: She had four strong women role models in her life: Her mother, Marilyn Berner; Dorothy Eppich, her grandmother on her father’s side; Jane Frey, her grandmother on her mother’s side; and Edna Kaiser, her great-grandmother.
Hobbies: Knitting and cross-stitch. She’s won awards for her needlework.
Something you might not know about her: She loves children’s literature, especially the illustrations.
What she’s reading to clear her head before grant-writing season: The “Little House” books
What she likes about Janesville: “People here are very friendly; there’s really a sense of community.”
What she doesn’t like about Janesville: Canan said she’d “really like to understand” the great divide between the communities of Beloit and Janesville. “They’re both awesome communities and complement each other,” she said.
How she decorates her home: With works from local artists

Last updated: 1:22 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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