Madison Circus Space

This summer, Madison Circus Space will open the doors to its new, expanded facility on the east side, perfect for flying trapeze and trampoline tricks.

This summer, Madison Circus Space will open the doors to its new, expanded facility on the east side, perfect for flying trapeze and trampoline tricks.

To get them to the construction finish line, Madison Circus Space contracted with local nonprofit Operation Fresh Start. That gives Operation Fresh Start workers a chance to learn commercial building skills, and fits into the Circus Space’s larger mission to broaden its community outreach and partnerships.

"We’re in the period of really exciting momentum, and having partnerships like the one we do with Operation Fresh Start is so exciting and propels this thing that we’re building even more," said Stephanie Richards, director of development for Madison Circus Space.

In May, Operation Fresh Start began work on the 10,400 sq. ft. interior of the circus space on Winnebago Street. OFS is a nonprofit that mentors and educates “disconnected” young adults, and trains them to work in fields like construction, health care and conservation.

The “stars aligned” for the two organizations to work together, Richards said, because OFS finished the renovation project for its own building right about the time Madison Circus Space was ready for its interior construction.

OFS will work on a significant portion of the framing, drywall and painting for the project, said Brian McMahon, OFS deputy director.

The circus space is a great chance for OFS participants to learn what it’s like to work on a commercial space, working “side by side” with other commercial and union contractors, McMahon said, and getting a sense of the work expectations and environment.

“This is a large project with a real timeline. They have to finish their scope of work so the next tradespeople can come in,” he said. “We’re really thankful to be able to partner with the circus space.”

Jason Henkins, supervisor of the OFS Graduate Crew, said that as a commercial building, the work will involve steel stud work.

“This is actually one of the first steel stud buildings that our guys are working with, so it’s a learning opportunity for them,” he said, especially as most participants go into commercial work.

At the end of construction, Madison Circus Space plans to host OFS crew and staff for a “circus sampler,” to say thank you and show the crew the purpose behind the design, Richards said.

But she hopes this is just the start of a relationship with OFS, as she’s passionate about expanding the outreach and partnerships of Madison Circus Space.

When the Madison Circus Space started, it was primarily for people who were already training in circus arts, Richards said, but it’s grown to include programming for youth and recreational circus activities. She believes expanding access to the arts is “one way of achieving equitable communities.”

“This thing we just built is pretty amazing, let’s share it with folks of all walks of life,” Richards said.

The circus space, which hosts training, clubs and performances for arts like juggling, stilt walking and aerial arts, opened in 2013. It now hosts over 30 weekly activities for over 250 participants, according to the Circus Space website, leading to overlapping classes and long waiting lists. 

The old circus building was housed in a former car dealership with about 3,200 feet of usable activity space, Richards said. That building was razed for the development of the new circus building and a coming cohousing development providing 64,000 square feet with 45 condominium units. Madison Circus Space has been using a temporary location in a warehouse on Bryan Street while waiting for the completion of construction.

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The new circus building at 2082 Winnebago St. will be the state’s largest circus arts training facility, Richards said.

A capital campaign and expanded space will mean more spots for kids and teens in afterschool programming, scholarship funds for those with financial need and an accessible building for those with disabilities. There will be smaller studios and a large main space with a high ceiling suitable for arts like flying trapeze, trampoline and duo trapeze.

When Richards teaches classes, there are usually three other classes happening at the same time, which can be pretty distracting for kids.

The new space will make for a “more controlled” teaching environment, she said, “without worrying that someone will run into a German wheel,” a large hoop used for stunts.

Madison Circus Space is running a $1 million capital campaign for the approximately $2 million project, and has raised $786,000 so far. That means not everything on the wish list will be in the building when it opens, Richards said, like a retractable bleacher system.

Madison Circus Space is planning on holding a ribbon cutting ceremony in early August. But just like the circus ground breaking, which involved a flaming shovel balanced on a juggler’s head, the ribbon cutting will be “equally unique” and entertaining, Richards said.

There will also be an open house for the public, likely in September, as well as a showcase in November to “really celebrate our presence in the community and build more awareness about the wonder and amazement that is circus,” Richards said.

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