Fountain of ideas: The Bubbler

Creativity flowing during learning
Fountain of ideas: The Bubbler

Fountain of ideas: The BubblerCreativity flows like a water fountain at The Bubbler, a hands-on participatory learning program for all ages at the Madison Public Library. Trent Miller, who calls himself “head bubblerarian,” describes the program as “a raw arts incubator space” that is “focused on people over materials and equipment.”

The Bubbler grew out of an event called Bookless, a party at the central library that brought together more than a hundred artists and featured rock bands and deejays. The library had been closed for renovations and was empty at the time, but it was filled with excitement and people sharing creative ideas. “That event really helped us kind of see what the library could be and what the future could look like,” says Miller.

Fountain of ideas: The BubblerThe Bubbler brings in experts to teach classes on topics from cheese making to screen printing to video game design and more. Miller says libraries today are dabbling in the “maker space” movement, which provides a place and tools for people to create.

The Bubbler is also more about fine arts. And it’s a hub for collaboration, with “hundreds” of artists, musicians and members of organizations who connect through the library. Miller says the program fills a void in Madison and experiments with the idea of what libraries could become. “Our whole program is loose and organic. Things happen and then we kind of push toward that.”

Erica Halverson, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education and a researcher at its Wisconsin Center for Education Research, is one of many partners at The Bubbler. She sees the program as an important place for people to contribute to the larger society by building things. “The maker movement affords people the opportunity to be producers of ideas in an arts-based way,” says Halverson.

What is social innovation?

According to Stanford University’s Social Innovation Review, social innovation is a “novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable or just than existing solutions” and benefits primarily society as a whole rather than private individuals.

It includes these elements:

Increasing employment, productivity and economic growth

Justice, fairness, environmental preservation, improved health, arts and culture and better education

A social innovation:

Can be a product, production process or technology (much like innovation in general), but it can also be a principle, an idea, a piece of legislation, a social movement, an intervention or some combination of them.

Recognizes the fundamental role of cross-sector dynamics: exchanging ideas and values, shifting roles and relationships and blending public, philanthropic and private resources. Innovation blossoms where the sectors converge.

Can’t be understood, let alone solved, without involving the nonprofit, public and private sectors.

The M List
Madison Magazine‘s M List is a who’s who of organizations and individuals who are having an impact on our local culture and economy. In its third year, the M List recognizes those making strides in the area of social innovation. Last year’s list of innovators were in the food industry. The original M List, in 2013, honored the technology sector. The 2014 M List honored “Foodtastic” entrepreneurs and innovators.

Click here to return to the 2015 M List.