37 ways to learn something new in Madison

Try out one of these ideas for things to create, grow, make and do for fun.
Three watercolors with one saying Give it a try and the other are two flowers
Photo by Nicole Peaslee

Baking sourdough from scratch only fills the void for so long. Keep the skill-building going by channeling your energy into developing personally and professionally, getting creative, seeking purpose or simply escaping for a bit. “I have been a big proponent of lifelong learning all along this life journey,” says Barbara Nehls-Lowe, program director in behavioral health at the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Division of Continuing Studies. “How else can I keep growing and learning and becoming more of the person I am meant to be?” Find inspiration in this list of local workshops, courses and other fun activities. (Who knows? Maybe you’ll discover polka DJing is your thing, too.)

1. Meet This Newly Minted Polka DJ

Stacy Harbaugh holding a record in her DJ set up

Photo by Paulius Musteikis

Photo by Paulius Musteikis

She was in search of an escape. In waltzed a preoccupation with polka on vinyl. Click here to read about Stacy’s Harbaugh’s hobby.

2. Grow Your Green Thumb
We’re not going to pretend like gardening is easy for everyone. Ferns, herbs, vegetables and flowers can be tricky, and all require different care. But the lineup of workshops at Olbrich Botanical Gardens will have you reaping a bountiful harvest without the hassle. olbrich.org

3. Channel Van Gogh
The freedom of creative expression is something Bare Knuckle Arts is willing to fight for. With classes in painting, mixed media, collage and more, this West Lakeside Street art studio owned by Amy Mietzel — a middle school art educator for more than 20 years — will help give people of all ages the confidence and space to flex their artistic muscles. bareknucklearts.com

4. Knit Like a Pro

Susan B. Anderson

Photo by Evan Anderson

We sought advice from Madison’s Susan B. Anderson, a straight-up celebrity in the knitting world. Click here to read her advice.

5. See Your City
Download GPS My City’s self-guided architecture tour of downtown Madison and savor the city’s structural beauty. This stroll around Capitol Square is beautiful and surprisingly informative, featuring Frank Lloyd Wright originals and buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Take a tour here.

6. Brew it Yourself
The Kombucha Shop, the Madison kombucha kit company that went big-time after a “Shark Tank” appearance in 2018, can help get your homebrewing hobby off the ground. Choose a basic or deluxe brewing kit, or order a culture and starter. Step-by-step instructions provide everything you need for your own fermented tea concoction. thekombuchashop.com

7. Work the Wheel

person working on a clay bowl on a wheel

Photo courtesy of Dongzhu Pottery

Grab some clay and get your hands dirty with a ceramics class at Dongzhu Pottery. Sit down at a wheel to throw a vase or bowl in a nonintimidating environment. dongzhupotterystudio.com

8. Order a Craft Kit From Revel
Sarah Van Dyke is the crafting queen around these parts, and she’s gone digital with Revel, her craft bar and event space. Attend a virtual workshop or order a DIY kit to have fun with glass and coaster etching, macrame, watercolor painting or paper flower making. revelmadison.com

9. Crack the Code
Learn a new language — the language of computer coding, that is. Picking up this technical skill can be a strategic professional move and could help set your online work apart. Madison College offers a range of computer courses, including basic introductions to Java, HTML, Python and CSS. madisoncollege.edu/computer-courses

10. Become Your Own Bartender

Cocktail kit

Courtesy of State Line Distillery

Discover all that the apéritif world has to offer by attending the Cocktail Lab at State Line Distillery. Pick one shaken and one stirred classic cocktail for you and your pals to construct under the tutelage of a State Line bartender. Cocktail kits are also available online. State Line offers half-sized kits, too, if you’re not ready to commit to the 11-14 cocktails a full kit makes. statelinedistillery.com

11. Promote Equity
Put in the work to uplift and empower Black families and children by taking a workshop in transformative education, equity and social justice through Urban Triage, a Madison-based nonprofit organization. urbantriage.org

12. Uke Can Do It
Grab a ukulele and strum a tropical tune with MAUI, the Madison Area Ukulele Initiative or FUN, the Fitchburg Ukulele Network. Sign up for strum-alongs or other local ukulele events. mauimadison.com; facebook.com/UkesFunGroup

13. Knit it Together
A joint cafe and yarn shop, The Sow’s Ear in Verona offers several ways to study up on all things knitting. Online classes teach you how to crochet, knit a sweater or even make a Bernie Sanders-themed item. knitandsip.com

14. Seek your soul map

Luna Lynn Frey holding a tarot card

Photo by Timothy Hughes

Luna Lynn Frey

Could tarot cards help you tap into a higher self? Luna Lynn Frey has worked in metaphysical shops or taken spiritual classes since she was 18. But in the past year or so, in her role as co-owner of Cosmic Delights, which opened in 2013, Frey has noticed such an uptick in public interest that she and her colleagues have deemed this period the “Great Awakening.” Read more about how to read tarot cards here.

15. Forge a Path to Fluency
Learn Spanish, Italian or Portuguese, among other languages, by taking a continuing studies class. “Studying a new language opens your world,” says Julie Dahl, director of language programs at UW–Madison Continuing Studies. “It literally changes your brain in ways that are good for your health and well-being, and, perhaps even more importantly, it teaches you to see and understand a bigger world and gives you tools to navigate that world.” continuingstudies.wisc.edu

16. Move Fourward

organizers of fourward around a table

Photo by Paul Newby, MA, Photojournalist

Fourward’s founders — Linda Vakunta, Alyssa Neblett, Delphine Vakunta and Joseline Nyinawabera (left to right above) — want to help young people of color thrive. "We’re figuring out the system and we want to reach back to the community to help young people do the same," Delphine Vakunta says.

Consult this team of experts who provide tools and resources to support underrepresented people in the workforce and in life. Read about Fourward here.

17. Create a Custom Candle
Melt your worries away with a 30-minute candle-pouring class at The Glitter Workshop. Pick a wick, wax color, vessel and scent — which include lilac and margarita, to name a few — and count down the minutes until you can fire up some self-made self-care. glitterworkshop.myshopify.com

18. Discover Your Roots
There’s so much to learn about our collective and personal pasts. Become a Wisconsin Historical Society or Wisconsin State Genealogical Society member for discounts on genealogy workshops and webinars. wisconsinhistory.org/genealogyworkshops

19. Start Stitching

little green embroidery circles

Photos courtesy of Erin Kessler

Local artist Erin Kessler says getting started with embroidery is simple. All you need is a needle, thread, a hoop and a piece of fabric. “Embroidery is a pretty slow process and there’s something really meditative and relaxing about it,” she says. Don’t worry about fancy stitches when you’re starting out. Practice a few times to learn how to keep the fabric nice and tight in the embroidery hoop, she says; then try some practice stitches, making straight lines, outlines and filling in areas of color. For inspiration, visit Kessler’s Instagram or Etsy shop. “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes — embroidery is really forgiving,” Kessler says. “If you mess up you can always rip out the stitches and try again.” –SJ

20. Write About It
Everyone has a story to tell — so why haven’t you started documenting yours yet? Whether you need to overcome writer’s block or you’re seeking advice on your novel-to-be, Madison Writers’ Studio offers workshops and classes of various lengths. madisonwriters.com

21. Turn Your Mic On
It’s a videoconferencing world now and we’re all just living in it, perpetually forgetting to unmute. If you feel like you still haven’t mastered the art of the virtual meeting, check out the recorded sessions, tips and resources from the UW–Madison’s Department of Information Technology. it.wisc.edu

22. Learn to Give Selflessly
Volunteer your time and learn how wonderful philanthropy can make you feel at any of the United Way of Wisconsin’s volunteer partners (taking into account COVID-19 limitations). unitedwaywi.org

23. Embrace Niksen
Excel at the art of doing nothing. Shilagh Mirgain, a psychologist at UW Health, says the pandemic caused all of us to slow down to almost a hard stop after rushing at a breakneck pace. Mirgain, who grew up in Holland, brings up the Dutch concept of niksen — the art of doing nothing. Learn how to do nothing here.

24. Shoot Your Best Shot

group of photographers taking pictures in water

Courtesy of Clickwell Workshops

Local photographers and proud mamas Katie Gardner and Kortnee Kasten teach you how to take the perfect picture. Their shoot-along workshops help you channel the professional photographer mindset while developing skills to adjust lighting, edit like a pro and find ideal shooting locations. clickwellworkshops.com

25. Weave at a Workshop
As with picking up any new sport, hobby or skill, beginner’s weaving is made easier with the guidance of tips and tricks from experienced folks. The Madison Weavers Guild, which currently meets on Zoom, is full of expert weavers who offer courses, workshops and monthly meetings covering everything from working with alpaca fiber to Guatemalan backstrap weaving. madisonweaversguild.com

26. Contribute to the Conversation

James Edward Mills

Photo by Nick Berard

Join the Joy Trip Reading Project to discuss books centered on people of color and their relationships to the natural world. Read about Joy Trip Reading Project here.

27. Take Note, Seniors
UW–Madison Continuing Studies allows Wisconsinites 60 and older to apply for select courses at the university free of charge and ungraded. There are opportunities to explore interests in social studies, history, health, art, astrology, gender theory and more alongside current students. continuingstudies.wisc.edu/senior-learning

28. Be a Lifesaver (Literally)
Former EMT and firefighter Andy Schoonhoven has taught CPR to Madisonians for the past 12 years. Schoonhoven’s classes are great for health care professionals, caretakers, teachers, parents and anyone else who may be interested in learning the basics of first aid from a certified pro. wisconsincpr.com

29. Send Up a Chef’s Kiss
There are resources to hone your cooking and baking skills, regardless of where you fall on a scale from “disaster artist” to “Michelin-star status.” Participate in virtual or in-person tutorials (with limited capacities) hosted by local businesses. Find the list here.

30. Smell (and Arrange) the Flowers
Appreciating a beautiful bouquet is one thing, but imagine having the know-how to design, construct and care for your own botanical arrangements. Red Square Flowers hosts workshops (with at least six participants) to teach florists-to-be how to properly place stems, wrap bouquets and keep masterpieces fresh. redsquareflowers.com

31. Pour Some Hot Iron

hot iron pour

Photo by Rob Dutcher/Dutcher Photography

In its 12th year, the Pour’n Yer Heart Out event — at which participants are taught and given the tools to pour hot iron into a heart-shaped mold — has become one of Madison’s coolest (err, hottest?) hands-on experiences that’s open to the public. Mark your calendar to reserve your spot for the next Pour’n Yer Heart Out event that will likely take place in February 2022. felionstudios.com

32. Makerspaces We Can’t Wait to Visit Post-COVID-19
A makerspace is a catch-all name for a place you can go to create art, tear apart a motherboard, 3D-print a project, attend a workshop, build a business and brainstorm with other area creatives. While COVID-19 has kept their workbenches fairly empty, some of the spots listed below have launched virtual programming or staggered/scheduled hours of operation. We can’t wait to get back in-person to these places where so many ideas come to life.

The Bodgery 740 Oscar Ave.
Sector67 56 Corry St.
UW-Madison Makerspace 215 N. Randall Ave.
The Bubbler at Madison Public Library 201 W. Mifflin St.
Wheelhouse Studios 800 Langdon St.
DreamBank 821 E. Washington Ave.

33. Staff Crafts
Check out the new tricks a few folks on our team have picked up in quarantine.



34. Get Your Money Right
Seeking financial advice can be uncomfortable, but equipping yourself with skills to maximize your monetary potential may be life-changing. The Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp., or WWBIC, holds webinars in debt management, small business ownership, homebuying, couponing and more. wwbic.com

35. Do Something for 100 Daysnicole peaslee's watercolor print of flowers
Nicole Peaslee, who is a freelance photographer and illustrator for Madison Magazine, was inspired by The100DayProject — a “free, global art project” in which the rules are simple: choose a creative project and do it every day for 100 days. Peaslee decided to do 100 days of floral studies, primarily using watercolors. It’s become a form of meditation for Peaslee, who will complete her project on May 10. Find Peaslee on Instagram @nicolemalenacreative.

36. Take a Dance Break
Kanopy Dance Co. wants to help you dance like a whole auditorium is watching. Get your groove on with classes in contemporary, modern, ballet, hip-hop, capoeira and other dance genres. kanopydance.org

37. Get Cheesy
We eat it, we glorify it, we wear it on our heads – but how many of us actually know how cheese is made? Luckily, GetCulture Inc. holds virtual cheesemaking courses so you can experience the hands-on, science-filled phenomenon yourself. getculture.com

Magazine footer that says "Like this article, get so much more by subscribing"