Arts and Culture

Madison's Arts scene is stronger than ever

7 things we *think* we know about Madison in 2015

No. 6: To declare that Madison’s art scene has arrived implies that a dramatic 180-degree shift has occurred, that someone or something major has taken root here and fundamentally shaken up our theaters, galleries, performance venues, poets, dancers, artists, actors, directors, choreographers, musicians and audiences.

That’s not what’s happened. But if you open your eyes a little wider, if you survey the scene with fresh discernment, you’ll see that change has been happening and things are different—that new groups are popping up and more established organizations are more creative, collaborative and innovative. And that’s a great thing.

Let’s start by acknowledging that the Madison Symphony Orchestra celebrated its ninetieth season in 2014–2015, with maestro John DeMain at the helm since 1994. And the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and Madison Opera have impressive fifty-plus-year histories of their own to tout.

Such a strong classical framework provides a foundation for launching more playful endeavors. This summer, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society continued its annual, themed and spirited chamber music concert series. Meanwhile, Fresco Opera Theatre culture-clashed Handel’s Rinaldo with Star Wars and launched a series of opera performances in residential garages, and Sound Ensemble Wisconsin combined classical music and a six-course meal in an exploration of what food sounds like and what music tastes like. Even Madison Ballet has found a niche by adding original, edgier productions like its Dracula to such mainstays as the Nutcracker.

In just seven years, Forward Theater Company has become a staple in local theater, a professional group that feels like it’s been here forever. Its success in staging—and often premiering—powerful and important plays has undoubtedly helped pave the way for a new professional theater group, Capital City Theatre, to launch this year. And how cool is it that Madison’s most envelope-pushing theater company is also one of the oldest? Broom Street Theater has been provoking, exploring and experimenting in dramatic, humorous and unexpected ways since 1969. 

Local museums and galleries continue to celebrate Wisconsin art of all styles, tones and media, while the Chazen Museum of Art has been building bridges internationally with shows featuring artists present and past from China, Japan, Paris and Cuba. Newcomers Gallery Marzen and DILLON have enhanced the artistic energy running through the near-east side. 

The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art raised the artistic collaboration bar in its work earlier this year with Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, revealing the pair’s large-scale paintings and using local input to create a stunning Madison-themed work of art. And new Dane Arts community murals across the city point toward an exciting future where art tells the stories and helps shape the vibrancy of neighborhoods. 

The Madison Science Museum, which opened in October, highlights the state’s legacy of innovation in engineering, biotechnology and more. And the new Harlem Renaissance Museum shows how the influence of the culturally rich period of the 1920s lives on today.

Concert series keep getting hotter, with the popularity of summertime favorites like Concerts on the Square, Jazz at Five and Dane Dances keeping everyone’s weeknights as fun as weekends. The Live on King Street block parties need to never go away, and it’s fun to see new programs, like the inDIGenous jazz series, added to the mix. 

And that’s exactly what it is, a mix—of old and new, classic and edgy, established and fringe, big and small, local and international—that made the arts scene in 2015 so exciting, so strong and so worthy of more exploration in the new year.  


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