Ernie Pope had an idea. He worked at Johnson Hill Press in Fort Atkinson where he was a strong supporter of the arts. Because he believed Fort Atkinson students had significant artistic talent, he wanted to hold an annual art show to engage and highlight young artists. During the 1980s, he approached art teachers in the School District of Fort Atkinson about putting on a juried art show and they loved the idea. The Johnson Hill Press Art Show was born.
Since its inception, there have been many changes to the show. Sadly, Ernie passed away from cancer and eventually Johnson Hill Press became Cygnus Business Media. Due to some changes at Cygnus, the show was not held in 2011 or 2012. But the Community Foundation rallied the troops, a fund was established in Ernie’s name that could provide cash awards for the show, and the art teachers stepped forward to save the day. The show, now named for its originator Ernie Pope, has been back on since 2013.
In 2015, Fort Community Credit Union stepped in and became the main sponsor, ensuring the show would go on! Over the next few years, the show appeared in a few locations, from the Fort Atkinson Club to the Creamery Building. When Covid hit in 2020, the heart of the Ernie Pope Art Show, the SDFA Art Department, had to pivot once again. They introduced a new and innovative concept – a partnership with downtown businesses that allowed art to be showcased in their storefront windows along Main Street for all to see while outdoors.
And just last week we were once again able to watch young local artists take the stage to receive their awards in the name of Ernie Pope and the love of art he shared with our community. It’s a wonderful thing to see an idea that started with one person, bloom over time and touch so many lives.
We are grateful to project champions like Ernie, and to all the helpers along the way, for the good work they do for our community.