Art Fair on the … screen?

MMoCA goes virtual July 11-12 for Art Fair on the Square

For many folks in the Madison metropolitan area, the annual Art Fair on the Square is a family affair. Strolling around Capitol Square — surrounded by booths of paintings, sculptures, homemade clothing, and other whimsical goods — has been a staple of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and Dane County since its inception in 1958.

Some people go just to peruse the hundreds of booths, others to expand their home art collections. Some visitors live just down the block on State Street, while others travel across state lines for one of the Midwest’s largest outdoor art fairs. Live music booms and food vendors sling street fare; children create and artists from around the country flaunt their handiwork.

But this year, due to COVID-19, the Art Fair on the Square will be fully online for the first time ever. On July 11, the Art Fair on the Square webpage will go live for the two-day event showcasing the work (for sale and shipment) of artists across all mediums while raising money for MMoCA’s youth and adult programs.

As MMoCA’s largest fundraiser, this may seem a bit unnerving. But with an impressive lineup of hundreds of artisans, entertainers on the schedule and eager museum patrons on the ready, hopes are high for this year’s event. While the nearly 200,000 anticipated visitors won’t be trotting around downtown, piña colada or freshly purchased pottery in hand as per usual, patrons will still be able to engage with artisans and view the online storefronts of nationally renowned furniture designers, woodworkers, jewelers and the like.

Artists including Michelle McDowell Smith — whose mixed media creations manifest the woodland fantasies of every nature lover with a keen eye — and painter-meets-printmaker Richard Wilson will be among those featured. Recorded musical performances from entertainers including Mexican-Italian songwriter Jesse Lopez and the Mad City Jug Band will also be released, and videos of Art Fairs past will provoke all of the nostalgic feels.

This year’s Art Fair will also showcase downloadable projects to keep your kiddos occupied while at home, and branded merchandise in addition to the annual commemorative items. (And yes, there will be branded face masks for sale.)

The COVID-19 pandemic has massively uprooted the arts scene in Madison and beyond, reiterating just how important it is to continue celebrating the craftsmanship of the creatives right here in our backyard.

“This is a challenging time for many people, including artists that earn a good part of their living from selling work at art fairs,” said Annik Dupaty, MMoCA Director of Events and Volunteers in a news release. “Though I do feel that we made the right decision to cancel the fair for public safety, I am also glad that we can still offer artists an opportunity to sell online while raising funds to help support the museum.”

Dupaty and her staff had to pull out all the stops in order to put on this event, but the implications could be essential to MMoCA’s future.

“The biggest roadblock has been time. We have never conducted an online art fair, so we are learning as we go,” said Dupaty. “Thankfully, our primary event goals — to raise funds for MMoCA and to help artists sell artwork — were clearly defined from the outset, and our staff knows how to pivot and works well collaboratively … albeit mostly via Zoom these days,” she jokes.

These Art Fair contributions could ensure the security of forthcoming programming like the Arts Memory Café, traveling resource ArtCart or after-school workshops for local youth. But beyond the financial constraints, the arts are critical as a means of culturally digesting and reacting to the current national environment.

“With all that is happening around the world, it is interesting to consider what role art plays in our lives,” said Dupaty. “Art can be a tool for social change, it can inspire us, challenge us, reflect our voice, create understanding, offer hope or simply give us something beautiful to look at.”

For updates and more information on the event, refer to the MMoCA’s website or this Facebook event.