Attention-grabbing installations can be found throughout the city
There have been visible successes over the years
In the realm of public art installation, Madison Arts Program Administrator Karin Wolf and the Madison Arts Commission have had some very visible successes over the years.
In 2009, the piece known as “Four Lakes” by Wisconsin artists Andrea Myklebust and Stanton Gray Sears, which depicts Mendota, Monona, Waubesa and Kegonsa lakes as large pieces of granite with a bronze badger and her offspring overlooking a long, rectangular fountain, was installed in the Frances Plaza on State Street. To fund the piece, which cost $230,000, Wolf accessed funds from a tax incremental financing district.
“Roads Diverge” was installed at the intersection of North Pinckney and East Mifflin streets on Capitol Square in front of the Madison Children’s Museum in 2013. It features a slew of faux street signs with a variety of words and phrases, none of them directional. The piece — created by artists Aaron Stephan and Brenda Baker, architect David Schreiber and city planner Rebecca Cnare — was a collaboration between the city, the Rotary Club of Madison and the children’s museum, and they split the less than $75,000 cost.
More recently, in 2016, local artist Michael Burns installed “Updraft” — a large, open-arched metal sculpture resembling beaches and trees — along a bike path in Brittingham Park on Monona Bay. To fund Burns’ piece, the Monona Bay Neighborhood Association raised the majority of the $80,000 cost.
In addition to these three pieces, dozens of other — mostly smaller — public art pieces are located around the city, ranging from the traditional figurines and fountains to more abstract pieces like huge stone shapes, animals made from metal and more than a handful of the totemic concrete sculptures by local artist Sid Boyum that are scattered around the east side. Some of the pieces in the city collection date back to the early 1900s.
The benefits of public art go far beyond filling space in a park or along a sidewalk, proponents say.
“Public art creates gathering spaces,” says local artist Jenie Gao, who installed a large, colorful mural of birds and children on the side of Trinity Lutheran Church last year. “It can be something that inspires and educates us and opens us up to our surroundings.”
Another local artist, Gail Simpson, who has worked in this field for 25 years and is also a UW–Madison art professor, says public art helps refocus viewers’ attention. “A lot of us walk through our daily life on autopilot — our faces in a screen or we’re making lists in our head — and we’re not really experiencing the environment around us. Art in public spaces can interrupt that and bring us back into the community.”
For more on Madison’s public art scene, click here.
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