WTLC was the dream of several folklorists deeply involved with local culture and curricula. In September 2003, twelve educators who work in school districts, classrooms, public agencies, and private nonprofits gathered for a planning meeting at Folklore Village in Dodgeville to make that dream a reality. Participants envisioned WTLC as a diverse community of educators who could inspire and support each other in their work.
Participants in the planning meeting agreed that one important means of support and inspiration was offering professional development opportunities featuring local culture. The “cultural tour” model, based on Mark Wagler’s classroom cultural tours at Randall Elementary School in Madison, proved especially useful, since it highlighted how local culture, economy and place entwine. In 2004, WTLC held a conference in Rhinelander that brought together teachers from around the state for presentations and a cultural tour planned by Kristen Larsen’s 5th grade class. In 2005, Anne Pryor and Ruth Olson offered “Wisconsin Folklife,” a distance education course which linked teachers from 5 cities across the state through video and courseware. Also in 2005, a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts allowed WTLC to hire a coordinator, Debbie Kmetz. WTLC grew substantially through its creation of the Local Culture listserv, and the revision of its website to feature teacher-generated projects.
In 2006-2007, with the support of an Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea grant, WTLC instituted “Here at Home: A Wisconsin Cultural Tour for K-12 Teachers,” an intensive interdisciplinary bus tour of the state. In 2008, the Wisconsin Humanities Council partnered with WTLC to offer Here at Home cultural tours in Milwaukee and northern Wisconsin. In 2009, the partnership included Kickapoo Valley Reserve for the Kickapoo Valley Cultural Tour. In 2010, Chippewa Valley Museum joined WTLC as a partner. Since that time, with financial support from NEA and WHC, WTLC has offered region-specific cultural tours around the state, interspersed with field schools and conferences or gatherings.
WTLC and its affiliated programs have accrued a number of honors over the years, including several Dorothy Howard awards from the American Folklore Society. It has also been featured in a national report by the Dana Foundation as one of 24 innovative arts education programs. An essay on its work is in the 2011 edited volume Through the Schoolhouse Door: Folklore, Community, Curriculum.
In June 2014, Wisconsin Teachers of Local Culture brought together 40 local culture educators to identify commonalities in our work, to develop a list of assets and obstacles pertinent to implementation of local culture curriculum, and to generate strategies for sustaining future local culture projects and programming. Read the insights in the white paper, Bringing It Home: A Gathering of Locally Focused Educators in Wisconsin.