David Wells’ calendar — and life — is filled with art.
Thursday from 5 to 7 p.m., Wells, director of the Edgewood College Gallery, will oversee the opening of the gallery’s newest exhibit, showcasing Milwaukee artist Eddie Villanueva.
On Friday, Wells attends a 6 p.m. reception at the Overture Center to celebrate another exhibition there, titled “Red” and featuring three artists — including Wells himself.
And on Sunday, he’ll head to the grand re-opening of Monona Terrace, where the convention center will unveil a new photography exhibit that Wells curated.
Artist, curator, administrator and teacher — the Wisconsin-born Wells knows Madison’s art scene as well as anyone. The course that he’s teaching at Edgewood College this spring, called “Arts and Civic Engagement,” delves into yet another area of expertise: Wells is former director of the creative arts residence Edenfred, helped shape the Madison Cultural Plan and once sat on the board of the Wormfarm Institute of Reedsburg, whose work has been recognized by the National Endowment for the Arts.
Wells also curates the art displays at Sundance Cinemas, and is coordinating an April 4 conference about Creative Placemaking in conjunction with the Madison Public Library and Madison Children’s Museum.
The Edgewood College Gallery is housed in “The Stream,” a $12 million center for the visual arts and theater that opened in 2012.
Q: You moved here from L.A. about 20 years ago, and today you wear many hats.
A: My M.F.A. is in installation sculpture. So that is very helpful in working with galleries and running gallery spaces, because many of the things you do in a gallery involve those kinds of skills, as well as lighting and working in three-dimensional space. In addition, I do a lot of monotypes and drawings, more individual kinds of projects.
Q: What are your goals for the Edgewood College Gallery?
A: With this fantastic new building, we are very much poised to be more visible in a larger way in the community and to bring people in. I think our programming — what we show, how we show it and who we partner with — will be a really wonderful thing for Edgewood College.
Q: How would you assess Madison’s “State of the Arts”?
A: We’ve seen the development of fantastic new facilities. The job of the arts now is to live up to those facilities. In the time I’ve been here, we’ve seen the complete development of Overture, plus MMOCA (the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art). Each organization then has to grow into its new facility. That’s meant big growing pains for a lot of organizations. How do you grow into Overture, bring your work up to the caliber of the building and the expectation it sets up?
The Chazen has such a fantastic new space for visual art. The Stream and the Design Gallery in the new UW School of Human Ecology building opened at the same time. Both of our facilities now have climate-controlled spaces, so we can do more museological-based exhibits, which neither entity could do before.
Everyone is concerned with raising the caliber and accenting the quality of what it is they do. Sector67, the new children’s museum, the new (Central) library — we are rich in those kinds of things that are accessible if we choose to do it.
A consistent thing is that it’s still a struggle for artists to be seen, to be taken seriously. The saying that “you’re no one until you’re someone somewhere else” is still true. It’s very difficult to make a living as an artist in Madison. But the caliber of the art that’s being made — across the board, in all disciplines, I think — is rising and growing.
— Interview by Gayle Worland