Movement to expand music, art in Madison neighborhood

'Willy Wash' group looks to create music museum with artifacts, food

Music is said to heal the soul, and bringing tunes and arts to the east side are what local musicians, like Beth Kille and the grassroots group “Willy Wash,” hope will revitalize the area from the Yahara River to the Capitol and from Willy Street to East Washington, as a location driven by music, food and arts.

“All these musicians, they’re small business owners in a way; and I think supporting them in what they’re doing only supports our community. The more that we support these musicians, the bigger they get, the more recognition it brings to our city. I think there is only a win, win, win that will come out of this,” said local musician Beth Kille.

The Willy Wash group is in talks with investors, lawmakers, developers and city planners to look at ways to put their vision into action.

Among them, the group is looking at Madison’s own music museum, which would look similar to Hard Rock Cafe chain with local artifacts and food. Members are also looking to create an amphitheater near the Yahara River at the intersection of East Washington Avenue.

“This community has a lot of opportunities for urban development and redevelopment. There are a lot of parcels, a lot of existing structures, that can be redeveloped from single use to multiuse,” said Alfonso Morales, a UW Madison professor.

Morales teaches urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin. This May his students presented their approach on what it would take to revitalize the east side community and develop the future of the city of Madison. Morales said the key to any development in Madison is collaborative leadership and combining interest.

“There is money, there is the human capital to do the development, there are developers willing to do the work,” Morales said. “The government is interested, but until a common purpose is determined, until collaborative leadership emerges, it is very difficult to grasp a particular vision.”

A vision the Arts Commission in Madison has been developing over the past decade throughout the entire city. Karin Wolf, the arts administrator for Madison, said there is still a lot of work to be done.

“We need to make sure there is equitable access to different genres of music around the city, that there is transportation to those venues so you don’t have to drive, especially if you are drinking. I mean there is a lot we need to do still to make this make this the Madison music city vision that we have,” Wolf said.

The city is already showing its support of local musicians on the east side with the approval of three concerts scheduled to take place in Central Park this summer.

To learn more about the movement, head to