6 Ways to Explore the Arts in Fitchburg
– written by Lisa Bauer
Just south of Madison – bustling Capitol City and home of the University of Wisconsin – and north of pastoral farmland, Fitchburg is often called the best of both worlds. This evolving city values green space, community and innovation. But one of Fitchburg’s best-kept secrets may be its elevation of the arts. From international musicians and artists to local flood and parties in the park, Fitchburg has its fair share of cultural experiences.
You don’t have to travel far – and you can do so on two wheels in this bike centric city – to quench your thirst for art, music, food and even craft cocktails. Here are a few opportunities found near native prairies, in sleek buildings or down a country road.
Perfect Summer Evening at the Park
Want a full-scale summer party without having to plan a thing? Make your way to Concerts at McKee on the third Mondays in the summer for free, family-friendly festivities. Great bands take center stage at McKee Farms Park, but what makes this a signature Fitchburg event is the motion surrounding the music-splashing, sports and, of course, food and drink.
Expect to experience a strong desire to dance. Madison Music Foundry brings in talented youth to open the evening. Headlining bands play salsa, marimba, rock, folk, blues, and more to entice young and old to clap and shake. If you’re more inclined to sit back or lie on a blanket as you sip wine or just snap your fingers, be our guest.
The community vibe grows from there. Pack a picnic or graze from local food and brew carts. Let the kids cool off in the splash pad or play at the park’s dream playground. Feeling sporty? Join a sand volleyball match or check out a little league game. Need a break from the action? Stroll park ground on paths that lead to will trees and waterways. Chances are you’'' even look up to see kites in the breeze.
Just off the Capital City Trail, McKee Farms Park is easily accessible by bike. Round off a long or short ride at a lively community event. Did we mention ample free parking? See you there!
When: Third Mondays in June, July and August
Where: McKee Farms Park, 2930 Chapel Valley Road
Online: “Concerts at McKee – It’s a Party in the Park” on Facebook
Fine Art, Premium Alcohol, Family-Owned Business
Enjoying artisan spirits just got extra artsy. Thanks to three generations committed to cultivating community through art and science, Yahara Bay Distillers opened a gallery in their newly minted micro-distillery.
The gallery rotates monthly to showcase works of talented Wisconsin artists in a variety of media. With premium cocktail in hand, patrons can chat with the artists at openings or visiting the gallery during retail hours. Artists share paintings, photography, sculptures, jewelry, glass blowing and more in a modern room with tasting bar and comfortable couches. Visitors are guaranteed to see unique works: explosive art using gunpowder; fair trade pieces made of wood, stone metal or rattan; stunning photographs of women battling breast cancer. And did we mention premium cocktails?
Nick and Catherine Quint opened the distillery in 2007, with the gallery popping up in 2008. They craft more than 40 quality products – liquors galore! – while building community. In addition to the gallery and tasting room, their new location boasts views of the distillery process, a long and sleek bar, retail space and large event room. Visitors take tours, sip and buy spirits, listen to live music and attend events like murder mysteries, yoga and hands-on art workshops. Or, rent the pace for your private event. Enjoy the science of distillation while appreciating the arts.
When: Visit the gallery and bar during retail hours. Attend art openings and events listed on their website.
Where: Yahara Bay Distillers, 6250 Nesbit Road #200
Online: www.yaharabay.com/gallery-events; “Yahara Bay Distillers” on Facebook
Art Fair on the Prairie to Tantalize the Senses
Paths through natural prairies, gardens and courtyards, unique architecture, and corporate commitment to the arts… Fitchburg Center had the perfect ingredients for the Agora Art Fair. In 2008, the first fair hosted 50 artists and 5,000 people. It’s grown to 100 artists and 15,000 eager visitors.
It’s all-senses-go at this unique Fitchburg affair. On the beautiful grounds of Agora – Greek for “gathering space” – visitors are treated to tents of fine art, elaborate kites (look up and you might see huge galloping horses), the smell of local foods, taste of craft beer and wine, and live music.
Wisconsin artists sell paintings, ceramics, jewelry, photography, glass and metal work, graphic arts, sculptures and more. If you get a creative itch, join hands-on experiences and walk away with a personal piece or contribute to a community mural. Kids can also create at a children’s art yard. All ages are invited to dance to live music on two different stages or graze local foods from restaurant carts.
And the icing on the artful cake? The fair is free with plenty of free parking and shuttles running throughout the day. Fill your senses and spend an easy breezy day with family and friends in a beautiful southern Wisconsin setting at the Agora Art Fair.
Music and Events Down on the Farm
Beyond the bustle of the city, down a country road in bucolic farmland, Anne and Bill Conzemius turned an old barn into an international music venue and community gathering space. Christened Art in the Barn, it hosts bands, benefits and an annual festival.
The acoustics are on point in this refurbished 19th century dairy barn. Artists the world over have played here and signed a wall in the building that used to house cows. Surrounded by vineyards, orchards and gardens, plus resident horses and cats, the barn provides a rural get-away for urbanites to experience both the quiet of the country and the talent of local and international musicians.
On concert nights, visitors can come early and picnic on the farm before enjoying acoustic music on straw bale bleachers. During intermissions, sit by a bonfire and chat with musicians. The summer culminates in Art in the Barn’s annual Gypsy Swing Fest that brings artists from around the world to a two-day event offering a complete cultural experience: music, art food and workshops.
Another annual tradition is the Madison for Kids breakfast to benefit a local scholarship program, drawing children and families to the farm for music, pony rids, games and once – the largest horse in North America. The Conzemiuses are not only committed to showcasing the arts in a rural setting, they also raise money for causes. In addition to the scholarship, their events benefit Haiti Allies – a nonprofit organization building schools in Haiti. Head to Art in the Barn to experience Fitchburg’s cultural gems.
When: Check online for events June through September
Where: 5927 Adams Road
Online: site.artinthebarnwi.org “Art in the Barn” on Facebook
Preserving Agrarian Legacy at Farmers Market
For a good century, Fitchburg was a farming community. The Fitchburg Center Farmers Market honors the city’s agricultural roots by bringing farm and garden bounty to Agora. Since 1998, the Thursday market has grown and thrived with an average of 25 vendors selling products from all over southern Wisconsin, May through October.
Under the iconic Agora Pavilion, you’ll find all the fixings – produce, flowers, fruit, cheese, baked goods, kettle corn and lemonade, soaps and fiber, meats, and more. Take part in benefits fo local charities and watch demonstrations. Sit at cafe tables while listening to live music.
Don’t forget to stop at the master gardeners booth and visit seasonal festivals celebrating with strawberries, carriage rides, pig roasts and kids activities. With free parking, an on-site ATM and bike trails leading you there, the market will likely become your weekly tradition. Enjoy a peaceful prairie and pond setting while picking up fresh, local products.
Corporate Commitment to Community and Creativity
At science giant Promega Corporation, creativity drives innovation. It seemed natural for the company to invest in quarterly art exhibitions. Daniel Swadener has curated the exhibition program at Promega’s BioPharmaceutical Technology Center (BTC) since 1996 and said for decades, the BTC has stood as a privately owned public space, encouraging community involvement and pledging space for fine arts.
At exhibition opening events, expect a dynamic crowd with live art demonstrations, food buffets and drinks. One opening brought a steamroller to the courtyard. It slowly glided on huge woodcuts overlaid with fabric. The artist carefully hung newly inked prints on ivy-colored brick walls for folks to admire.
Inside, stunning pieces adorn sleek curved walls, an open and bright reception area and a second level that leads to a rooftop oasis. Swadener has brought in African sculptors, Cuban folk artists, Native American youth’s mixed media, nationally renowned photographers and local painters and fabric artists.
Promega BTC was also a launching point for Bike the Arts, a monthly, curated bicycle tour of Madison art spaces. Cyclists of all levels participated in the arts via sustainable transportation. Come to Promega BTC’s gallery for a metropolitan art experience in the heart of Fitchburg.
When: Check online for exhibits and events through the year. Exhibit hours Monday through Friday 8 am to 4 pm.
Where: Promega BTC, 5445 East Cheryl Parkway
Online: www.promega-artshow.com; “Promega BTC Events” and “Bike the Arts” on Facebook.