Meet the 2018 M List winners
Introducing some of this year's honorees.
Madison is home to a strikingly rich population of innovators, creators, doers and dreamers. They are thinkers and makers driven by curiosity and inspired by beauty. They are entrepreneurs, educators, growers, healers and so much more. And they are artists and performers, writers and players. And together they make up the M List.
Meet some of this year’s honorees.
Host of The Spontaneous Writing Booth
‘We write poems on the spot on any topic to support good causes.’
“We are inspired by the creativity that can transpire when people encounter one another in a public space. When we ask someone for a word and make a poem out of it, we are channeling that simple encounter into a creative work.”
Founder and curator of Visual Edible Audible
‘VEA curates visual, edible and audible immersive experiences.’
“VEA provides an art experience as opposed to an observation of art. I think outside the box – literally, outside the white box of the art gallery/museum – and use creative venues (bikes, parks, boutique hotels) to make visual art more available to the public.”
Co-founder and artistic director of Theatre LILA
‘Creates inventive new works of theater for our diverse community.’
“We are inspired to tell stories that have an impact on our community. We fuse movement and text to create a unique style of theatrical storytelling that is both visual and visceral. Much of LILA’s work is focused on new ideas and bringing diverse voices to the stage – we do this both through our LILA productions and our Whoopensocker school shows.”
Jenie Gao connects the political with the personal.
Visitors to the Museum of Wisconsin Art earlier this year were confronted with two startling images: a “gundog” and a “bulldog.” That is, dogs with handguns or bullhorns for heads. “One represents war and violence, the other protest and speech,” Madison artist Jenie Gao explained in a statement. The exhibition illustrated that even the most contrasting viewpoints stem from what people believe is necessary to survive now and in the future – and how those shared instincts should “be the basis of how we understand one another.” As an activist-artist working in woodcuts, ink drawings and other media, Gao strives to forge connections and show how the personal and the political are linked. Many of her projects are highly visible, such as her sustainability-inspired wall at Working Draft Beer Co. and a Trinity Lutheran Church mural representing refuge and community, made when she was a lead artist with Dane Arts Mural Arts. Some are temporary, like an installation of migratory birds fashioned from old clothing, the result of her arts residency at the Madison Public Library last year, and an installation that debuted this fall along 300 feet of chain-link fence surrounding the Bayview Foundation. Yet it’s Gao’s transparency about the resources that go into any artistic endeavor that is perhaps her most profound contribution to artistic innovation. She won’t stand for hidden labor hours, and she believes building a sound business leads to opportunities not just for herself but also for her collaborators. “I’m really, really adamant about the value of creative labor,” she says. “I’m clear about what it takes to make something that has depth and has quality.” -KV
Art in Action
‘Explores contemporary social issues through the arts and creates change.’
Kelly Parks Snider, partner of Art in Action Inc., uses words and art to create awareness of and generate change in the Madison community and nationwide. Art in Action is a nonprofit collaboration between Snider and video producer Jane Bartell. Snider works with partners to help bring social justice arts initiatives to people throughout Wisconsin. “I use my art and my exhibition as a platform for gathering and discussion,” Snider says. “My hope is that my art provides a critical lens – an opportunity to focus with a critical sense of truth and renewed openness.” In addition to Art in Action, Snider has collaborated with artists and activists to create other projects, including Project Girl, Women Against Hate United By Love, Hidden In Plain Sight and more. – EN
‘Composing music for the solo electric bass’
Josh Cohen, a Madison-based musician and composer, says he is the only electric bassist in the city “exploring polyphonic textures and improvisation” on the solo electric bass. Inspired by the masters of jazz and composers of classical and baroque music, Cohen’s current work is in uncharted territory. With further development, Cohen says his explorations can make a large impact on the international electric bass community. Cohen also plans to record a live album at a local venue and perform at Madison music festivals and other places. Cohen is enthusiastic about working in Madison, and hopes that the city, with a diverse and celebrated music scene, can draw more musicians from around the globe to work, record, play and study here. – DL
‘Photography and video production studio’
Founded in 2015 by Ting-Li Lin and Max Chen, Snowforest has offered architectural photographic skills to those who seek them. Lin has no specialty; he does it all. “I’m a generalist; I do a little bit of everything,” says the photographer and videographer. “Not only is it fun, it allows me to borrow some idea or technique from one discipline to another, or from one genre to another.” He says his biggest sources of inspiration are nature and landscapes — he’s intrigued by the forms, shapes, textures, patterns and colors in nature. He also claims technology as one of his inspirations. “[Technology] can help me create something I could have never been able to create before,” says Lin. “I adapt new technology quickly and am able to implement it into my work right away. … My work keeps changing and evolving, and there is no fixed theme in my work, which I think makes it unique to the Madison art scene.” – EN
Professor of photography at UW-Madison
‘Commentary on American Indian identity, experience and perception’
“For the past 20 years, I have been photographing my tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin. First and foremost, I am ever mindful of my responsibility and I want to carry on a sense of pride about who and what we are as a people. I am giving a perspective as someone who comes from within the community and presenting a nation that is generally unseen in popular mainstream culture.”
A Way With Words
Founders of the Spooky Boobs Collective create feminist art.
“Oh, what beautiful designs,” visitors might think as they approach wallpaper created by Amy Cannestra, Myszka Lewis and Maggie Snyder. But as they take a closer look, they’ll notice words embedded in the repeating patterns. Bossy. Bitchy. Darling. Drama Queen. Sensitive. Skank. As founders of the Spooky Boobs Collective, Cannestra, Lewis and Snyder use language, design, performance and art to highlight the “trivialization of women’s experiences.” The women bonded as MFA students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, sharing stories about sexist treatment they’d witnessed or experienced. They wanted to respond through art – to draw attention to the actions, behaviors and language that perpetuate sexism – and the collective provided a way to take on the topic collaboratively. “It also felt like a good place to have reinforcements,” Snyder says. “There’s more power in working together.” Spooky Boobs turned up the volume with “You Have the Right to Remain a ___.” In the performance art project, an “officer” interrupts unsuspecting passersby and “arrests” them for violating a societal norm. Participants are given their charge, photographed and released with permission to remain confident. Or introverted. Or a prude. Or a feminist. Or a different label heaped on someone who goes against the patriarchal grain. “We’re trying to reach people with approachable methods and make art an experience for everyone,” Lewis says. The trio is currently developing a card game using nongendered insult words – a new way to shine a light on how language can fuel sexism. “It’s really important that we make feminist art,” Cannestra says. “This is such a powerful message we can share.” -KV
Independent visual artist
‘I paint my beliefs and childhood memories that describe my identity’
“I grew up hearing stories such as ‘La Llorona,’ ‘El Callejón del Beso,’ ‘La Leyenda del Popocatepetl e Iztaccíhuatl’ and many more. I was only 7 years old when I drew my very first well-done drawing. After that, my dad bought me and my sister a drawing table. I guess I never stopped drawing after that. I paint what I feel and miss. Painting is my meditation.”
Tandem Press at UW-Madison
‘A self-funded fine art printmaking studio and gallery’
“Tandem Press is open to the public and offers free tours of its studio and gallery. Visitors have the unique opportunity to see how fine art prints are made in a professional, world-class printmaking studio. At Tandem, invited artists have the opportunity to use a wide range of traditional and contemporary printmaking methods to create their prints.” – Paula Panczenko, director
Fresco Opera Theatre mixes high culture with pop culture to combat the genre’s traditional reputation.
Back in 2009 while taking in the Willy Street Fair Parade, Melanie and Frank Cain shared a realization: “This is what opera needs – this crazy energy where everyone feels accepted and all are invited to be inspired by what they see,” recalls Melanie. The pair founded Fresco Opera Theatre to make opera accessible and appealing for a broader array of audiences – all without sacrificing artistic quality. The Cains have found a niche in mixing high culture with pop culture. Original productions include “Paranormal Playhouse,” which set arias to a plotline inspired by ghost-hunting shows; “The Real Divas of Dane County,” in which fictional reality-TV stars sang works by Mozart, Bizet, Puccini and Wagner; and “Rinaldo and the Galactic Crusades,” touted as the intersection of Handel and “Star Wars.” Fresco shows have graced the stages of Overture Center for the Arts, the Madison Masonic Center and Olbrich Botanical Gardens, as well as private garages across the city. “You don’t get much more accessible than in your neighbor’s driveway,” Melanie says. These shows, which debuted in 2015, have been extra family-friendly, but with Fresco’s signature mashup twist: “The Ugly Duckling” staged like a John Hughes ’80s flick, or a Kardashians-inspired “Cinderella.” Melanie, who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in music from UW-Madison, is equally at home behind the scenes as she is lighting up the stage as a soprano for Fresco. “I work best when I have a headset on calling the show until right before I have to walk on to sing,” she says. – KV
Jojin Van Winkle
Multimedia artist, creator of LSTN MOR (Listen More)
‘My films, video installations and soundscape projects make listening visible.’
“My role is often that of a composer, weaving together visual and auditory spaces. To get to bring together divergent styles to create one whole experience felt like my experiences of scuba diving – both moved by currents and in awe at that which lives just below the surfaces as well as in the depths.”
Simone and Max
Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky, visual artists and community organizers
‘Collaborative duo cultivating empathy through art, teaching and community organizing’
“We are inspired by recent research that frames empathy not as an inherent trait, but rather as a skill that can be consciously cultivated. Our current work is rooted in developing rehearsals for this process by using absurdity, nostalgia, pop culture, ambient sounds and sublime imagery to disarm viewers and invite them to engage with urgent dialogues of social concern. Finding new ways to combine and reconfigure these ‘lifeworlds’ in service of making Madison a better place to live for everyone brings us joy.”
Founder and ex-officio board member of Alex Haunty’s Theater and Arts Fund Inc.
‘Creating access to the arts for people with disabilities, giving them opportunities to shine’
“I take groups to musicals each year and have begun doing workshops where we explore the arts and learn to sing, dance and act. Our world is missing so many gifts that are inside those of us with disabilities because many people with disabilities do not have the support needed to be able to learn or grow or discover and have access to the world of arts.”
‘A creative artist pushing the boundaries of photography’
“My photographs seek to alter the way one looks at and experiences the familiar. Traditional photography captures depth, width and height. I dance with the fourth dimension: time. I call this technique ‘timestacking,’ which is accomplished by taking numerous photographs and compressing them into a single frame. This allows my images to catch and accentuate movement and results in bold, saturated colors and shapes.”
‘Scientific art installation that promotes public engagement with science’
Dr. Ahna Skop, professor of genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Angela Johnson, an artist and photographer, collaborated on a 40-foot-long interactive piece that is meant to explore how genes and genetics influence our lives. On display at the Biotechnology Center at UW-Madison, “Genetic Reflections” features mirrors overlaid with the genetic codes of creatures, from bacteria to humans. “Art and science had a closer connection hundreds of years ago than they do now,” Johnson says. The piece encourages the audience to reflect on similarities and differences to other life on this planet. Skop and Johnson are also working on a traveling art piece that will be a smaller rendition of “Genetic Reflections.” The smaller work is set to visit several science centers and art museums across the country in hope of reaching and inspiring more viewers. The creators want their art to embolden future and current artists and scientists to dive deeper into their studies, and keep an open mind when exploring new ideas. “It’s a fascinating world,” Johnson says. – DL
Justice For All
Duo empowers marginalized groups.
For Johnny and Marie Justice, their last name is more than just that – it’s a reflection of the kind of work they pursue through their production studio. The couple creates video and photography aimed at empowering Madison’s marginalized communities. Justice Media started organically, when Marie bought a DSLR camera to take photos of their children in 2015. That was around the time that Tony Robinson, an unarmed, 19-year-old black man, was shot and killed by a white police officer. At a vigil in memory of Robinson, the Justices met a man, John Steines, who they eventually worked with to start an initiative called Intentionally Welcoming Communities. The project began as a visual art piece, an embodiment of the organization’s goal to create an inclusive Madison. Johnny said the piece was meant to be thought provoking. “[E]ven though we believe and think certain things, how intentional are we in welcoming everyone?” Johnny asks. With no formal camera training between them, the Justices expanded the project into the documentary “Walk a Mile in Their Shoes,” in which they followed stories of five local people from different marginalized groups. “So many people need a voice,” Johnny says. “‘Walk A Mile In Your Shoes’ gives you a bird’s-eye view of a life you have a stereotype about.” Following the premiere of the documentary, Justice Media embarked on its next project: “We Are Icons.” The idea stemmed from the duo questioning why there weren’t more people of color featured in iconic images and film. They transformed models, who were friends or people they ran into on the streets, into characters such as James Bond, Wonder Woman and pin-up models. They documented the process by recording participants responding to the question of why they love being a person of color. Johnny says both projects are on-going. Their next idea is to depict people of color as music icons like Elvis Presley, or television stars and subjects in famous photos, most of whom are white people, he says. – SG
Director of Jazz Studies at UW-Madison
‘Preparing students for careers in jazz and related music’
“I am deeply passionate about my own work as a jazz pianist, composer and recording artist, and I love seeing that same passion in our students who keep creating new ways of making this music relevant to their generation. I spent my formative artistic years in the great jazz scenes of Boston, New York City and San Francisco, which gave me opportunities to work with and learn from many great players. My current work also draws on my background as an immigrant and a member of the LGBTQ community.”
Metta Monday Creative (Love Wisconsin project)
Megan Monday, co-founder and producer; Brijetta Hall Waller, co-founder and producer
‘Storytelling + technology for connection, compassion and engagement’
“Love Wisconsin shares real-life, first-person stories online where people gather: on social media,” says Brijetta Hall Waller. Megan Monday adds, “The idea was to create a place for personal human stories that showcase the richness and diversity of our state, and share them back with as wide a group as we could gather. The reason? Because we matter to each other. Because we need bridges of understanding, and because we need to be connected to grow our communities.”
Poet and author of “100 Chinese Silences”
‘Poems that write back to stereotypes about Asians’
“The voices and experiences of Asian-Americans inspire me. My work shows how the art we love and that shapes us can also sometimes silence us, and offers parody and humor as a critical response. I hope it shows another way in which poetry can be political, and that it creates more space for Asian-American voices in Madison.”
Three programs engage the campus community and the general public.
The Center for the Humanities offers various programs year-round that engage students, faculty and the public in conversations about current events and culture. One core program, Humanities Without Boundaries, crosses local borders not only between the community and the university, but also geographic and ideological thresholds. It invites speakers from around the world to share unique ideas on trending topics. Center Director Sara Guyer says she “thinks boldly and experimentally about who could represent the humanities and who could speak for the way that ideas live today.” Another program under the center’s umbrella invites the audience into the discussion. Humanities NOW brings scholars and humanists, who are most often UW-Madison faculty, together for panel discussions on current events. Guyer says panelists have unique perspectives that aren’t the typical views offered in mainstream media, which lets the audience think through topics along with them. A third program offers students a hands-on learning experience: HEX-U, or “HEX,” is short for “Public Humanities Exchange for Undergraduates.” Undergraduates partner with a local organization on a humanities-related project and blend what they’re learning in classrooms with community service. “Learning how to work with a community partner and understanding their needs and what you can bring … is one of the key opportunities of the program,” Guyer says. – SG
Emida and Steve Roller family
Emida Roller, lead artist for Dane Arts Mural Arts; Steve Roller, founder of Cafe Writer and author of “The Freelance Manifesto: A Field Guide for the Modern Motion Designer”
‘Helping freelancers build a business in the gig economy’
“Too many freelancers are working too hard for too little money,” says Steve Roller. “I want to change that. I want to help more people develop a sustainable lifestyle with a creative, entrepreneurial business. Madison, and the world, will benefit as a result.”
Associate professor and artistic director of First Wave Hip Hop Theater Ensemble Program at UW-Madison
‘Promotes urban arts as tools to engage personal narratives and real-world problems’
“This program was structured around questions about where urban arts intersect with academics and activism. The program creates culture and engages campus and the community in diverse conversations where performance and performance art created the points of entry. Through First Wave performances, we have been successful in bringing many communities of color to campus for the first time. One example is the Line Breaks Festival, which brings artists on the cutting edge of hip-hop theater and contemporary performance to Madison.”
A Comic About Gender
‘Fine art and graphic novels exploring queer identity’
Artist and graphic novelist Rhea Ewing makes both mixed media fine art and comics that touch on gender and queer identity. Ewing, who uses the pronouns they/them/their, strives to thoroughly understand the topics they address in their work by conducting community interviews and research. Ewing believes that everyone should reflect on surroundings and seek what it means to be human. Ewing’s artwork is inspired by “narratives in nature and science” and promotes further exploration of and curiosity about the natural world. The comic FINE prompts readers to view the world through the author’s eyes while challenging the dominative narratives regarding the subject of gender. The artwork “resists the urge to oversimplify” and is a more accurate rendering of the unique experiences of the LGBTQ+ community. Ewing says through artwork, they hope to encourage compassion, curiosity and trust in a community, regardless of people’s identities. – DL
Helping Local Artists Grow
Community-based art space provides more than 200 programs for emerging, early career artists.
The Arts + Literature Laboratory is more than a physical space on the city’s east side. It exposes emerging artists to different ideas and helps those artists to share their work with the community. ALL is a community-based, nonprofit contemporary art space in Madison. It offers more than 200 programs, including educational classes, live performances and monthly rotating exhibits. Co-founder Jolynne Roorda says ALL connects artists to viewers, each other and other resources that help develop careers. The space offers workshops and exhibitions in visual art, literary works, performance art and music. Most of the people involved are emerging and early career artists from around Dane County. Some local artists and arts nonprofits have merged with ALL, including Alaura Borealis, formerly of ArtWrite Collective. Now ALL’s education and outreach director, Borealis coordinates free art education courses for youth artists, particularly focused on arts education for marginalized communities. Another program under ALL is CSArt, an adaptation of the Community Supported Agriculture economic model that exchanges art like a CSA distributes produce. CSArt encourages the public to invest in local artists. Ten different artists are selected each year, and 50 pieces of their work are distributed to program shareholders. Weaver Dakota Mace participated in CSArt in 2017. She said the program allowed her unique cultural artwork to break into the local art scene – which is the outcome the program hopes to reach with all the artists it works with, according to Roorda. Fellow CSArt participant Faisal Abdu’allah, a visual artist, associate professor of printmaking and faculty director of The Studio at UW-Madison, also focuses his pieces on culture, specifically to question how it relates to race, identity and representation. ALL staff members say giving artists, particularly MFA students, the tools they need to further their careers is key to keeping them in the area. – SG
Real Life Library by nonprofit WHOA! (We Help One Another)
Garrett Lee, co-founder of Real Life Library and founder of WHOA!; Jennifer Smith, co-founder of Real Life Library; Jordan Biagomala and Robert Chantigian, videographers
‘Building empathy with storytelling’
“The Real Life Library is truly a co-created, collaborative art project. Each volume creates a space for people to connect with others in an intimate, noncompetitive storytelling experience that builds empathy and community. When people connect meaningfully with others, we develop empathy. The impact can be life-changing and reach well beyond Madison.”
Director and producer of “The Smart Studios Story”
‘A documentary of independent music and art in Madison and the Midwest’
“I am inspired by the recognition and celebration of individuals and independent media. My work is part of a unique landscape made up of many independent musicians and artists. I hope the work I produce, either on my own or in collaboration with others, continues to resonate with a diverse audience.”
The Hip Hop Architecture Camp
‘We use hip-hop to critique, understand and generate architecture.’
Since 2017, Michael Ford, creator of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp, has been pursuing his goal to increase the number of architects of color. He developed a program combining hip-hop and architecture, to provide an entry point for underrepresented communities aiming to become civically engaged with the development of their neighborhoods and cities. “The curriculum of The Hip Hop Architecture Camp is unique because it allows youth to explore architecture through physical model building with Legos, 3D modeling … [and] the creation of an official Hip Hop Architecture Camp song and music video,” says Ford, co-founder of the nonprofit Urban Arts Collective. “My hope is that The Hip Hop Architecture Camp generates interest among youth in becoming urban planners and architects.” The program has gone international, with camps in more than 30 cities and three countries. – EN
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