When the James Watrous Gallery asked a group of local artists, architects and other thinkers to come up with a vision for Madison 75 years from now, one theme came to mind for many of them: The lakes.

Those bodies of water – including Mendota, Monona and Wingra – and their health and long-term well-being are central to the exhibition “Future Possible: Imagining Madison.”

Looking far down the road to the year 2093 is the brainchild of the Madison Community Foundation, which is supporting the show and its related events as part of the foundation’s 75th Anniversary Year of Giving.

MCF charged the James Watrous Gallery — located on the third floor of the Overture Center, and part of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters — to gather a group of contributors to imagine Madison a couple of generations from now.

“I said yes, but I didn’t really know where it was going to go,” said gallery curator Jody Clowes.

“If you think about it, 75 years is a really long time. And it feels like things are changing so rapidly right now.

“I started reading all this science fiction, and looking at the work of futurists, because I was just trying to get a handle on how I would approach it if it were me,” she said. “I found myself completely boggled, very quickly.”

“What I think is interesting is that every person that we posed this challenge to has taken a really personal look at it, but also a very local look at it,” Clowes said.

“I was getting caught up in, ‘Will we have artificial intelligence running our lives? What kinds of jobs will we have?’ And most of the artists involved in the show have been thinking very specifically about this place, which I thought was very interesting, very grounded.”

The creators for “Future Possible” all have a strong connection to Madison – a priority for Clowes, who curated the show. They include:

  • Kate Stalker, a landscape designer who was project architect for the City of Madison’s 11.5 -acre “Revival Ridge” redevelopment of the Allied Drive neighborhood, among other projects.
  • Ashley Robertson, who came to Madison in 2013 to work as a city planning consultant but became a full-time artist instead.
  • Architect E. Edward Linville, principal with Linville Architects.
  • Designer, educator and visual artist Jeremy Wineberg.
  • Lou Host-Jablonski, an architect with Design Coalition, Inc., whose projects of the past 40 years include co-housing, child care centers, community centers and playgrounds.
  • Madison native and multi-media artist Anders Zanichkowsky.
  • The Madison Design Professionals workgroup, with its vision for constructing a boathouse designed by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of a waterfront park on the Monona Lake shoreline.

Madison’s lakes take center-stage in many of the works. Landscape architect Stalker, for example, creates a complex timeline of what could happen to the region’s watershed in seven and-a-half decades – for better or worse. Architect Linville proposes a system of water taxis to better engage the public in the lakes. Artist Wineberg invites viewers to reflect on the future with an abstract piece evoking the Yahara watershed, its creatures and its people.

Several artists make connections to the Yahara 2070 project, a research project by the Water Sustainability and Climate Project at UW-Madison. For that reason, the show includes material from that study along with its rich illustrations by John Miller.

“The thing I kept hearing over and over again as we talked with people about this project was that, unless we deal with the health of our lakes, we’ve really got no future here,” Clowes said of the theme many “Future Possible” artists latched on to. “We’ve really got to solve these water quality problems.”

Still, some contributors to the show took a different approach. Zanichkowsky looks at issues of social justice and balance. Architect Host-Jablonski envisions a built environment — made from living trees.

Or “buildings that actually grow,” as Clowes put it.

In Host-Jablonski’s idea, strategically planted sugar maples become, through the years, so intertwined they can provide shelter.

“The idea is that this is at least a 75-year project,” Clowes said.

“What I liked about this is that it’s really about long-term thinking: How do we think about architecture? What kind of structures do we want to be building? How do we have a more environmentally sustainable architecture? But also, how do we as a community really function in the long term?”

[Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a correction. The original version misspelled the last name of Ashley Robertson.]

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Gayle Worland is an arts and features reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.