Madison is home to a thriving and interactive art scene, as seen through its various annual city-wide traditions and events.
The art community within Madison is just another great thing that could be added to the extensive list of “Why Becoming a Badger Was the Best Choice You Might Ever Make For the Rest Of Your Life.” Whether you’re aspiring to become an artist, fond of various mediums of art or simply looking for something to do downtown, the annual Art Fair on the Square hosted by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is an event you should make sure to check off your first year bucket list.
This summer’s Art Fair on the Square was hosted from July 8 from 9 a.m .to 6 p.m. to July 9 from 10 a.m to 5 p.m.
The Badger Herald was given the opportunity to sit down with MMoCA’s spokesperson Erika Monroe-Kane, at the awe-inspiring museum located at 227 State Street (wedged just between Short Stack Eatery and Noodles and Company) to discuss the annual events and its importance to the museum.
The following interview was edited for style and clarity.
The Badger Herald: In your words, can you please explain what the Art Fair is for? What’s its purpose or goal?
Erika Monroe-Kane: The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is a free art museum. Admission is free to visit the four galleries and the rooftop sculpture garden that we have. We have a number of education programs that take place in the museum and around the community. The Art Fair on the Square is our largest fundraiser of the year, so it has a significant impact in helping us serve the community and make art accessible to the community. That’s the primary reason for Art Fair on the Square.
It’s a major event that people in the community really look forward to, but we draw people from all around the region. People drive in from surrounding states and the fair itself is juried and rated one of the best art fairs in the country consistently — it’s a major community event. A big part of why the museum exists is to connect people with the transformative power of art. And we did that for 200,000 people over the course of the weekend. They’re down there talking to artists, seeing their work and learning about their inspiration and material.
BH: Approximately, how many artists were featured at the last event?
EMK: We had 485 booths and we know that we have, as a result, nearly 500 artists. Sometimes you have artists that work as a collaborative team so that’s why there are more artists than there are booth spaces.
BH: How diverse were the artistic styles represented at the fair?
EMK: Wildly diverse. You first have a range in medium and then inside of that you have a wide range in styles. So for painting, for example, you can see this artist, Ali Hasmut — who won an award this year as well — in fact, has a very traditional oil painting style, but then there are others who have an extremely abstract style or a very whimsical style. So, you really can see a wide range in the style as well as the materials, and that is by design for sure. That’s part of why planning the fair takes so long and is such an attention to detail process for the staff and the jury of non-staff who work with us in selecting the artists.
BH: How do you decide who becomes a member of the jury?
EMK: The jury is invited by the museum to participate and we then look for an artist. We look for someone who is familiar with art making and with the art world, so often it will be a gallerist or it will be an art professor. We try to have a range of people with knowledge about contemporary art and techniques be a part of the jury.
BH: What types of music artists performed and what sort of food was there?
EMK: There’s a lot to see so we have food carts, MMoCA concession stands, three stages and a kids area for children to do hands on art making.
It’s super fun and it’s all arranged around the square for the most part, so people can sit up on the Capitol Lawn in the shade, relax, have some food, get something to drink and that just helps us create a fun ambiance. If you get tired of walking around in the heat, you might need a break and you might want to sit down and have Pots-N- Tots, dumplings or even a brat from the MMoCA concession stand. It just creates this atmosphere of a festival fair.
And we have different kinds of bands so the big stage, which is on Martin Luther King Boulevard tends to have bigger bands, more plugged in, it’s a larger stage, there’s more seating and more room for dancing around there. At the top of State Street at the WPR stage, we tend to have more folk and roots, R&B type of music there and then we have a performing arts stage where people can see dancers and that’s super fun.
BH: Any additional information?
EMK: Well, I will just say the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art is a nonprofit independent organization and I point that out because we’re not part of the city. We’re not part of the university. We’re not part of the state unlike most of the other museums around, so if you get state funding and you’re part of the university, it’s a lot easier to be admission-free and the museum does not have that affiliation as a nonprofit organization. It really takes a lot of these type of fundraising events to put us in a position where we can have all of the programming that we do have and be a world class organization right here in Madison. We want the artists to be happy, so we have a competitive art fair. We have a great art fair, it’s sort of this cycle. We need people to come and we need to keep it good.