Madison’s greatest hits

Inevitably, when you leave one place to go to another for nothing more than a new job, the former takes on a nostalgic glow in your memory.  Madison, WI is that place for me.  The city is situated between two lakes, and houses Wisconsin’s state capitol, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and probably hundreds of arts organizations and non-profits.  It also hosts the best Farmer’s Market I have ever been to.

UW Madison has a distinguished arts past, as I learned when the UW Chancellor welcomed National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman (who also went to Colby, my undergrad alma mater).  It had the first dance program in the country, the first glass fine arts program (who knew?) and best of all, the first (and best) Arts Administration program ever.  The latter was my reason to visit Madison, for the bi-annual convening of the alumni of the Bolz Center for Arts Administration, known as Collegium.

Collegium was a two-day arts geek-fest, as we explored (with the help of some super-smart (and super-quotable) folks like Russell Willis Taylor) such exciting topics as “traditional arts audiences are declining…now what?”, “should we care about the distinction between for-profit and non-profit arts?” and how to train the next generation of arts leaders.

(My favorite Russell quote was about fundraising.  It went something like this:  “It’s like piracy.  They have the money.  We want the money.  So we go get the money.”  My friends who fundraise didn’t find this nearly as funny as I did.) 

Strangely, I found this gathering far less exhausting than past ones; I think it’s because I’m older, wiser and a little more jaded – I don’t expect that we’ll all rush back to our organizations and make the changes that seem so obviously necessary.  Organizations are large, clunky things that resist change – as a friend once said, it takes a lot of spins of the wheel to turn a big ship.

But beyond this academic reflection, I got to enjoy the best of my favorite Madison haunts.  Here they are, in no particular order:

  • Babcock Ice Cream on the Terrace
  • Brats and Beer on the Terrace
  • Sitting on the Terrace for 5 hours in the fall sunshine

Do you sense a trend?  Here’s the view from the Terrace:

All of these, of course, are only fun because of the people who come with them.  I love these friends – people with whom I shared grad school, who talk smack about the arts as much as they do about football.  We’re all a little older now, a little more seasoned, but I’m glad to know we can still spend an afternoon at the Terrace doing nothing more than talking and enjoying each other.

Whenever I wax sentimental about Madison, I usually find a way to coat all the memories in a glorious autumn glow.  I somehow choose to forget things like the miserable treks down State Street in December, during which I would use the 1/2 mile from the office to class in the freezing cold to dry tears of frustration caused by a certain traditional Christmas theatrical extravaganza.  Or the winters that stretch into April, or the hassle of digging my car out of the snow every single day for months on end.  But really, those negatives don’t amount to much in the face of great memories of friends, football, theater, music, dance, parties and yes, geeky arts-talk.

It’s been nearly 8 years since I went back to school.  Frankly, it wouldn’t bother me to go back again.  Provided, of course, that all the days are sunny and Terrace-worthy.

On Wisconsin!

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One thought on “Madison’s greatest hits

  1. Arrrgh I feel like a pirate. They do have the money, we all want the money, most of the time it's the same money we want and it gets harder and harder to get "them" to part with their money…we are pirate scientists trying to split the atoms–of change they throw our way. Kim T

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