For some, the old Brass Works building looked like a dilapidated has-been.
But for the Goodman Community Center, it symbolized potential. And for Erika Monroe-Kane and Ellen Carlson, it brought to mind art.
Monroe-Kane and Carlson are the volunteer curators and organizers of the art exhibition “Forge,” opening Saturday evening in the century-old Madison Brass Works building at 214 Waubesa St.
Located along the Capitol City Bike Trail on Madison’s East Side, the building was purchased for $450,000 in 2015 by the Goodman Community Center, located just across the street. The community center plans to renovate the old structure and add a two-story addition by fall 2018. The Goodman Brassworks Building will house more middle and high school programming, and offer its large historic room as community and event space. The exterior brick and signage will be restored.
Before construction begins, however, the building’s dark, raw industrial space will host the week-long “Forge,” featuring creative installations by more than a dozen well-known Madison-area artists. Admission to the show is free.
“We really liked the concept of transformation – forging something, some of those raw elements of metal, of fire, using those in the development of something else,” Monroe-Kane explained.
“We also wanted to harken back to the role that the workers and craftspeople had in developing that neighborhood, from an industrial place to a very vibrant neighborhood.”
“Forge” will be ephemeral — like the wildly successful, one-day pop-ups “Bookless” and “Municipal.” In those exhibitions, Madison artists took over Central Library and the Madison Municipal Building to creatively fill the space before those structures were closed for retooling.
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Close friends who previously collaborated on the 2014 public art project titled “Where Are You Going?,” Monroe-Kane and Carlson both live near the Goodman Community Center and “have been very connected to it for some time,” Monroe-Kane said. “Our children have been in programs there. We’ve supported their efforts – and just love the work they’re doing for the community.”
Neighborhood residents already know the Brass Works exterior well.
“You bike by it, pass by it,” she said. “I think a lot of people are curious about it. Goodman Community Center has told us that having this exhibition is wonderful because there’s so much interest and curiosity about the building, and people wanting to get in the building.
“We were very intentional with the artists about wanting to enhance the experience of being in the building, and not obscure it,” she said. “This is not a transformation of this beautiful, raw industrial space. This is an enhancement. It’s partnering with the space in a way, not competing with it or wanting to overshadow it.”
Home to the city’s only brass foundry, Madison Brass Works created the plaque mounted on UW-Madison’s Bascom Hall that proclaims: “the great state University of Wisconsin should ever encourage that continual and fearless sifting and winnowing by which alone the Truth can be found.”
Artist Jeremy Wineberg is using that quote as the basis of his video art installation in “Forge” — to tie his work to the building’s past, to Wisconsin history and to the concepts of “Truth” and academic freedom that are “poignant right now.”
“I thought it was an interesting object to focus on as a product of this place,” Wineberg said of the famed Brass Works plaque.
“I like working with existing spaces,” he said. “Place is really important to me in making artwork.”