New Arts Center, Visitor Experiences Lure Groups to Eau Clair, Wis.

Pablo Center at the Confluence - Eau Claire Wisconsin

If you want to take the pulse of American popular culture, the best places to do it are in the country's hippest communities, where new trends in food, art and entertainment often germinate. Communities like Austin, Texas; Portland, Ore.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; and...Eau Claire, Wis.?

Although Wisconsin is best known for its dairy industry, its beer and its football fans, Eau Claire -- located in western Wisconsin, approximately 90 miles east of Minneapolis -- is bringing a different flavor to the Badger State in the form of diverse art, music and dining, according to the city's convention and visitors bureau, Visit Eau Claire. The organization, which calls Eau Claire the "Indie Capital of the Midwest," says meetings are descending on Eau Claire in growing numbers as planners and attendees get wind of its avant-garde offerings, which are more accessible to groups than ever thanks to two recent Eau Claire additions: Pablo Center at the Confluence (pictured) and a new "Signature Experiences" program.

The first, Pablo Center at the Confluence, opened in September and is the city's major arts and events center. A venue for dance productions, literary and film events, and concerts, as well as private functions, it includes two theaters -- a 1,200-seat theater and a 400-seat theater -- as well as rehearsal, dance and community rooms; labs for sound, lighting, set and exhibit design; a recording studio; multimedia production and costume design spaces; a scene shop with space to support makers and creators; multiple art galleries featuring work by regional and national visual artists; and multipurpose rooms that are available for meetings and special events.

Pablo Center is also home to Visit Eau Claire's new "Experience Center," which will offer visitors and residents a taste of Eau Claire's best assets, including live entertainment, pop-up shops, artist demonstrations and food samples. The space, which Visit Eau Claire calls a "visitor center of the future," debuts this week and marks the launch of Visit Eau Claire's new "Signature Experiences" program, a partnership with local businesses, artists and makers through which locals and visitors can book local experiences and activities. Offerings, for example, include tours of Leinenkugel's historic headquarters and brewery; maker workshops with local artisans; cooking experiences at a commercial kitchen and incubation space; and a behind-the-scenes tour of Eau Claire's Carson Park baseball stadium, where baseball legends Hank Aaron, Bob Uecker and Joe Torre once played.

So if you're looking for an Austin meeting on a Wisconsin budget, Eau Claire might just be the place for it.