Focused on artful living: Jean Detjen

When asked to describe herself, Jean Detjen quotes, “I must be a mermaid, I have no fear of depth and a great fear of

shallow living.”


As an artist agent, art curator, freelance writer, model and brand ambassador, Jean Detjen is a busy woman, but that doesn’t stop her from keeping her eyes open for new opportunities. She continuously looks for ways to appreciate

art and share her passion with others. Detjen’s current quest is

focused on art revival and creative placemaking.



Detjen was born and raised in Wisconsin. Most of her childhood years were spent in Oshkosh. College and her career kept Detjen away for a few years, but when it

came time to raise a family, she settled in the Fox Cities.


“Appleton has been my home for over 20 years and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Detjen. “My love for this community is huge and it continues to expand the more infused we become with diverse arts and culture elements.”

When asked as a child what she wanted to be when she grew up, she always said an artist. She discovered being an artist didn’t have to mean being a painter standing at an easel. Detjen became interested in writing, using words to express herself.


Detjen received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Notre Dame. She spent much of her career working in public relations, marketing and communications, although she still found outlets to feed her creative side.


Today, Detjen describes herself as a “free agent.” She works independently as an artist agent, art curator, freelance writer and marketer. Detjen represents artists throughout Wisconsin as well as artists in France, India and the U.K. She works with two modeling agencies and is the brand ambassador for Princeton Audio.



This fall, Detjen reveals an opportunity had met her passion. As an artist agent, she didn’t feel people were connecting to the art as she’d like

them to — posting photos of the art online didn’t do the creations justice. She needed a space to display the pieces properly.


“When I buy art, it is because I see it, I hear the story behind it, I meet the artist and I connect to it in a personal way,” says Detjen. “Art is personal and emotional. It’s about making connections, engaging one another and building relationships.”


By chance, the building owner of Grand Kakalin, the former historic Eagle Mill in Kaukauna, was looking for a tenant and needed a way to showcase the beautiful space. “The stars were aligned,” says Detjen.


After two months of intense planning, Detjen hosted her first “Take Me to the River” exhibit, filling the 11,000 square feet of space with original work created by local artists — 40 artists had permanent displays and other artists were woven in throughout the month for pop-up events. The exhibit ran from Nov. 4 to Dec. 2. Opening night drew a crowd of more than 700 people — a shocking, yet welcome turnout.

“Not only did people discover new art and artists, they also saw Kaukauna in a new light,” says Detjen.


She explains the magic continued throughout the month. Visitors came by to enjoy the pieces on display and attended events throughout November, which included live music, performing art, demonstrations and more.


Her vision behind the Take Me to the River initiative is to bring unexpected art into unexpected places. She hopes to highlight the natural beauty of the Fox River by using it as a backdrop for the art it inspires.


“The idea is to transform empty or unexpected spaces via multisensory, interactive art experiences across diverse mediums, bringing new life and vibrancy to communities as a result,” she adds. Detjen hopes to continue showcasing art and artists by holding one event per season. The next exhibit is scheduled for Jan. 13-20 at Rock Garden Studio in Appleton. “It will spotlight a chorus of diverse artist voices, local and abroad,” adds Detjen.



Working from home, Detjen reveals she starts her day with strong black coffee. While she has a long to-do list, she takes breaks throughout the day to enjoy the outdoors or peruse art on the internet.


“I make a point to scout art-related ideas and vision in action, typically via my online newsfeeds and various social media channels,” she adds.

Evenings include cooking at home or dining out — catching a live music show and enjoying healthy local food.



While Detjen is currently building her credibility in the art community, she’s already made a name for herself by improving the quality of life in the Fox Valley.


Detjen was part of the core group of people that got Appleton’s Mile of Music off the ground. Her responsibilities included identifying venues and getting buy-in from downtown Appleton businesses.


“I had a great time scouting original music bands with the artist recruitment team I pulled together. I also helped recruit sponsors and solicited in-kind contributions, such as free hotel stays for the musicians,” she says.


An added bonus — Detjen met her boyfriend, Jeff Romenesko, through her involvement with Mile of Music.


In 2008, Detjen founded Project Starfish, a nonprofit program that provides grants for K-12 grade school children in 34 public schools. She explains the program was designed to provide disadvantaged students with funding so they can be fully engaged in their school experience and co-curricular activities.


A core principle of the program is to demonstrate the value of giving back and making a difference. Detjen believes this can be achieved one person and one act of kindness at a time.


“Grants have been given out to fund things like art supplies, athletic apparel, musical instrument rental, foreign language camps, yearbooks, school dances, bus fares and more,” adds Detjen. “In return, the recipients are asked to ‘pay it forward’ in some way. I’m very proud of this program and am thrilled that it continues on throughout the entire Fox Cities.”


In the six years under Detjen’s watchful eye, she helped raise over $45,000 for Fox Cities public schools. In 2014, she completed the final Project Starfish grant distributions and handed the project over to the schools to continue.



This year, Detjen will be joining Appleton Downtown, Inc. as a co-captain for Arts Wisconsin/Wisconsin Creates in 2017. “The big picture of arts advocacy has to be a part of the growth phase of where the Fox Cities as a whole is headed from an economic development perspective

and Appleton is at the heart of that movement,” she says.


Looking ahead, Detjen hopes to grow her Take Me to the River initiative by holding more art exhibits throughout the Fox Cities. “I also want to help my community develop and grow public art initiatives that are in sync with a cohesive arts and culture re-branding for our area. I’m

intently focused on infusing more art and art appreciation into Wisconsin's beautiful Fox Cities region,” she adds.


Personally, Detjen intends to create more of her own art this year — painting, writing poetry and getting creative with abstract photography.


She concludes, “I do what I do because it fuels my passions, brings joy to myself and others and provides an emotional outlet. My hope is that it makes the world a little better in some small way.”  w

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