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One-day art extravaganza draws thousands to vacant municipal building

One-day art extravaganza draws thousands to vacant municipal building

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A couple of weeks ago, Angela Richardson ran wild through the Madison Municipal Building, raiding supply closets, pillaging storage rooms and rifling through desk drawers.

It was all on the up and up. Saturday, the art installation she and co-collaborator Paul Andrews created from all of those found objects was part of “Municipal,” a one-day pop-up event celebrating creativity in all its varied forms.

It was a free, family-friendly event patterned after “Bookless,” the successful 2012 gathering that turned the Central Library into a temporary art museum and community party right before it was gutted and overhauled. The municipal building, 215 Martin Luther King Blvd., is now set for its own extensive renovation.

Emptied of all workers, the entire 75,000-square-foot city building became an anything-goes, fun-house canvas for the inventiveness of more than 100 artists. Almost every corner, hallway and stairwell sprouted something to amaze and ponder, with performance artists, weavers, dancers, musicians, stilt walkers and filmmakers among the mix.

“An opportunity like this only comes around every few years, so when you get the chance, you really jump on it,” said organizer Trent Miller, who works for the Madison Public Library as director of The Bubbler, its “maker space” program.

The seven-hour event proved popular, with 2,600 people taking it in, Miller said.

“I loved poking around and coming upon all these things,” said Alison Jones Chaim of Madison, a taxi driver who brought her 12-year-old twin sons. “It’s a happening. People are here, and that’s a good thing in a community, to bring people together.”

The event was mounted on a budget of only about $1,000, Miller said. The artists, selected by a jury, received no money.

“I’m getting paid with good vibes,” said Michael Velliquette, a mixed media artist. He used more than 5,000 pieces of paper to create a giant, complex mural near the building’s entrance. It took him nine hours to assemble — longer than people were able to view it.

“I have no problem making temporary works,” he said. “I’m invested in the process, not the outcome.”

Performance artist Marina Kelly said it was invigorating to create something fast and site-specific and to have the freedom “to make a mess.” Artist Rebecca Lessem, who works in information technology in her day job, said she appreciates events that bring out vast cross-sections of a community, not just the standard art crowd.

“For someone like me who makes giant, weird sculptures, it’s a chance to be seen by a lot of people,” she said. Her large inflatable piece depicted a ghostly house and what she called “tree-like things.”

One of the most popular attractions was Katrin Talbot, who sat behind a manual typewriter and offered “municipal poetry to order.” People handed her any three words from a bowl, or wrote their own words, and she produced an instant tiny poem. (Sample: “Land use in an urban jungle is really an appetizer to feasting.”)

Those wanting a different kind of participatory experience could get out their rage by throwing tomatoes at a wall. The scraps were scooped up and cooked.

Richardson considered her installation a nod to all of the city workers who passed through the building over the decades and to all of the materials they used to do their jobs.

“It’s giving file cabinets their due in all their majesty,” she said.

The piece also incorporated staplers, garbage cans, file folders and miscellaneous remnants from desk drawers, like paper clip chains and Post-it notes with important things to remember. (“Vendor suffix must be Ø if blank.”)

Nancy Jarvis, of Middleton, a retired molecular biologist, enjoyed the piece’s minutiae, noting a pizza coupon that expired in 2006.

“I just love this,” she said of the installation. “It represents so many people’s lives and all of their years of work.”

Among those in the crowd were city workers and elected officials, even Mayor Paul Soglin, who stopped in about 1 p.m. and seemed to approve.

“Maybe we should just leave the building this way,” he said.

The event was organized by The Bubbler at Madison Public Library in collaboration with Arts + Literature Laboratory, The Apartment Project and Madison Community Discourse, with support from The Madison Arts Commission, Dane Arts and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Chaim, the taxi driver, was among many hoping the concept becomes a trend.

“They should gut some more buildings,” she said.


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