La Crosse Compassion Project takes shape downtown

6,000 student-made canvases will be on display at Pump House

A conversation many students are having in the community will soon be on display for all to see as the La Crosse Compassion Project starts to take shape downtown.

Since October, students within the La Crosse School District have been creating works of art for the La Crosse Compassion Project.

Each student was given a 6-by-6 inch canvas to individually show what compassion means to them. Now all 6,000 canvases are coming together in one place to create one powerful message for our community.

In order to accommodate so many works of art, the Pump House has to be transformed.

“It is an irregular building with great old walls, we had to work around stairwells, around columns and so forth so we could maximize every square inch of the gallery walls for this project,” said Tim Riley, the executive director of the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

The La Crosse Compassion Project has been in the works for several months. About 6,000 students were asked a simple question: How would you depict compassion?

“Of course, there are 6,000 different answers to that question,” said Riley.

“Not one of them is the same, so you get to look at everybody and you get to tell a story,” said EmmaLee Ekhardt, an intern with the La Crosse Public Education Foundation.

That leads to a more complex question: How do you display 6,000 depictions of compassion without putting 6,000 holes in the wall?

A volunteer architect created a nail-free gallery layout by making over 100 portable walls.

“These walls will be installed on top of the gallery walls here at the building,” said Riley.

“What we are going to do in the end is put all of these canvases that the children created onto these fake walls,” said Ekhardt.

A transformation within the Pump House that organizers hope spreads a message way beyond these walls.

“Now it’s time for the community to join that conversation by seeing this installation and seeing what 6,000 voices have to say about compassion,” said Riley.

The La Crosse Public Education Foundation is still looking for volunteers to help with the installation of all the art pieces. If you would like to help out within the next couple of days, you can send an email to Riley at

All 6,000 pieces of art work will be on display at the Pump House, May 2 through June 28. The event is free to the public. Click here for more information about the La Crosse Compassion Project.

If you want more stories on compassionate people in our community, check out, a website created and managed by News 8.