Yep, you read that post title correctly: Madison is such a cool city artistic-wise that we have not one but two separate, neighboring, coexisting — and free — art fairs that occur downtown on the 2nd weekend of July every year.
The events are called Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair Off the Square. Note how I underlined “on” and “Off” in that last sentence to emphasize how they’re very similar yet rather different. I’ll give a general description of Art Fair on the Square first: It’s put on every year by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and as the event’s name implies, it takes up the entire square block of roadway immediately surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building. It’s also the older and, obviously, bigger of the two events (2017 was the 59th Art Fair on the Square), with a combination of live music, entertainment, food, and, yes, art attracting nearly 200,000 visitors to Capitol Square every year.
Art Fair Off the Square is smaller and younger than its rival… well, they’re not rivals, really, although as I noted, they are separate events. Off the Square is conducted by the Wisconsin Alliance of Artists and Craftspeople, and occupies a two-block stretch of Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd from Doty St. southeast towards Monona Terrace (a subject in itself for a different post, I promise). Since street space is tight, Off the Square has no room for entertainment, and a homemade ice cream stand is its only food offering, but it makes up for it with its emphasis on Wisconsin artists.
And that’s another big difference between Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair Off the Square, and perhaps the most significant: Whereas Art Fair on the Square opens its application process to exhibitors from across the country, Art Fair Off the Square limits its scope to Wisconsin-based artists. Apropos for the latter considering that they’re a Wisconsin-based arts organization, but it’s nice to see this state’s creative community gets its day in the sun. And as a whole, it’s really awesome to see art of all kinds from all people: Paintings, metal fixtures, sculptures, woodworking, photography, mixed media, jewelry, other wearable art, or whatever else the human mind thinks of when they hear the word “art.”
Most of that art, however, is the kind that the exhibitors discourage folks from taking photos of, probably due to the whole copyright thing or whatever. That’s why, so as not to get into too much trouble with the artists, I generally take photos of the event that, well, is too broad of an image to be significant. I mean, if you’ve seen one street full of tents and visitors at Art Fair on the Square…
…then it’s for sure Art Fair Off the Square has the same deal.
But that’s not to say there aren’t exhibitors who don’t mind getting their creations photographed… or at the very least do not post signs on their tents forbidding people from doing so. Such was the case with this artist’s work with metals. I didn’t notice who the artist was or where he was from, but the metal silhouette cardinals he had on display really stood out with their striking use of color and steel.
Oh, of note: Not only did the Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair Off the Square exhibitors have their wares on display… folks could buy them as well. I mean, of course the artists would like to sell their wares; it helps put food on their tables, right? You’re asking, “Gee, Allison, did you buy anything?” Well, yes, I have done so in the past… and did again this year. I’m one who loves well-crafted photography, so my mind’s been drawn to such works at the art fairs over the years, including putting $68 down for a couple of modestly-sized, easy-to-frame photos of beautiful scenery from a Wisconsin photographer. I’ve shared the wares with family, too, including one year buying a nice photo of a lake setting that went straight to the guest room of my mom’s house.
Here’s hoping you show some love for the artists that show their wares at an art fair near you. And if you’re here in Madison, circle the weekend of July 14-15 on your 2018 calendars; that’s when the next Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair Off the Square will take place.