Four artist profiles
These Madison artists aren't just making art. They're making a community.
The university may bring artists here, but it’s the community they find that makes them stay.
The four artists in this week’s cover story — 4D grad student Anwar Floyd-Pruitt, queer artist and educator Alaura Borealis, new photography professor Tomiko Jones and painter/entrepreneur Evan Gruzis — are all relatively new to Madison’s art scene.
But while they all have some connection to UW-Madison’s Art Department, none of them have confined their work only to campus. They offer a glimpse of what art in Madison looks like in 2018, and how it could evolve if the resources and community they find here prompts them to stay.
“It’s the perks of a larger city in a smaller format,” said Max Pulchalsky, who with his partner Simone Doing is part of the artistic duo Simone and Max. “You can go to MMoCA and Overture Center and see national, international quality exhibitions and programming and performances. Beyond that, it’s the quality of life that will draw anyone … being in a city but having close access to natural spaces.”
Karin Wolf, the city’s arts program administrator, sees artists come to study or to teach and remain because they “find that niche and that community of artists that’s like-minded” as well as a balance between sustainable employment and an artistic practice.
“I’ve heard of many people attracted to Madison because of the university community,” Wolf added. “They’re excited about the scholarship and opportunities for collaboration on a research campus. If they find an avenue to productive livelihood, they want to stay.”
Each of these artists has a unique background and career trajectory. Where their work often overlaps is how they think about collaboration, both in the process of making work and the responsibility of — or opportunity for — the viewer.
Their art asks people to participate by sewing fabric, dyeing a white T-shirt, reading snippets of text on video or sketching a self-portrait in a mirror. It’s anything but passive.
The community has been collaborative too. In addition to established programs like The Bubbler at Madison Public Library, there are opportunities for connection in spaces like Arts + Literature Laboratory and Communication, Jenny Bastian’s new workshop, studio and small performance space on Milwaukee Street.
“That DIY sensibility is inspiring,” said Gail Simpson, a UW-Madison professor of sculpture and longtime public artist. “For younger artists to want to stay here, to see artist-run spaces, artists who just decided to not wait for someone to offer them an opportunity but just to do it themselves, it makes it seem possible.
“For people who are graduating and want to stay here, it seems like there’s a next step.”
Pulchalsky and Doing are among the young artists who have chosen to make Madison their home. As frequent curators and founders of Arts + Literature Laboratory’s “CSArt” program, both are Verona High School grads in their second year of the MFA program at UW-Madison.
“Being rooted in a place and building authentic relationships over time makes organizing possible, community building possible,” Pulchalsky said. “We want a thriving arts community. We want to be a part of that. In order to be a part of that we have to help build and sustain it.
“We’re starting to see a new model of a Midwest artist who is rooted — maybe aspirationally traveling for projects, but rooted here,” he added. “It feels like this is a place where we can be effective. We can be critical agents of change.”