The colorful GuitarTown murals dot downtown Waukesha, and artful guitars are found in local business, but the GuitarTown celebration doesn't stop with the visual tributes to Waukesha's Les Paul.
Last week, $36,000 was given to community organizations raised from GuitarTown efforts for a second year. The Food Pantry of Waukesha County, the Waukesha School District and Habitat for Humanity of Waukesha County each received $12,000.
"This year was more incredible with all the murals," and the 10-foot playable guitars throughout Waukesha, said Waukesha Downtown Business Association President Norm Bruce.
Bruce said this year's GuitarTown celebration had another bonus: building a closer relationship among city organizations/business owners and Waukesha students.
"Part of what was incredible is the school district, North, West, Saratoga, La Casa ... they all got large guitars," Bruce said. Other playable guitars went to Butler Middle School, St. Joseph's and others. The inclusion of the students in decorating the guitars and offering a youth stage downtown during Friday Night Live events has fostered a strong relationship between GuitarTown and the school district. The relationship now carries on to other community events, such as the business association's recent Guinness World Record attempt for the most carolers.
Bruce said the downtown group for years has tried to get schools and choirs more involved. He thinks that the relationships they formed this summer carried on in the holiday festivities, where more than 1,800 carolers came out in an attempt to break the current record of 502.
Bruce also said the students received a visit from the Gibson Guitars tour bus, which they got to tour and see memorabilia on board, including Paul McCartney's guitar. "I think it served as an inspiration for them. They could see that if someone like Les Paul could come from Waukesha, what could I do?" he said.
The GuitarTown support extends in ways one might not imagine. Diane McGeen of Habitat for Humanity said the $12,000 donation her organization received from GuitarTown means that Habitat can begin plans for another home.
"We are currently building in Dunbar Oaks in the city, and just two weeks ago we were awarded another lot on the other corner. We're excited to have another building opportunity," McGeen said. "The whole idea of Habitat for Humanity is to raise funds to build the house and then sell the house, so when we get a check like this from GuitarTown, it's fabulous and helps us get the walls up."
"Next year at this time another family will have stockings to hang over their fireplace," she added.
GuitarTown is an opportunity for everyone to find a way to get involved in making Waukesha a better place. Bruce said as the efforts grow and you see guitars not only downtown, but at places like Steinhafel's and even Discovery World, the movement becomes "a beacon" for tourism in Waukesha.
"When you're making these types of investments and bringing big businesses, you're creating a corporate family who want to improve Waukesha. They want to be part of improving the quality of life here," he said.