On a windy Saturday afternoon, I made my way down to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Art Lofts to attend the Art Department’s annual Open Studio Day. The event took place from 12 to 6 p.m. on Nov. 5 in the Art Lofts Studios and George L. Mosse Humanities building, each home to different areas of the UW-Madison Art Department.
Families returning from the football game at Camp Randall and others of all ages milled around the Art Lofts throughout the day, exploring the building. Rather unassuming from the outside, the space is ample and modern, boasting many impressive gallery spaces and some truly unique facilities.
I didn’t know much about our visual arts program before Saturday. Art isn’t the first thing that came to mind when I thought of UW-Madison and its many programs. However, after seeing how many diverse disciplines and cool opportunities the Art Department offers, I think more UW students should get involved.
Historically, Open Studio Day was a graduate student-centered day where faculty visited student spaces. “In the past four years, [however], we’ve changed it to being more focused on undergraduates,” academic program manager Matthew Mauk explained.
Now, the event is more interactive, inclusive of all art students and the larger Madison population.
“We opened it up to the public — everybody [can] see student work, buy pieces, see exhibitions and just generally see the Art Department,'' Mauk said.
This year’s event offered glassblowing tutorials, special presentations and print and glassware sales. There was an opportunity to visit and talk with over 50 graduate students in their studios, which featured their work on display.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of the most famous Art Lofts facility: the university’s glass lab. UW-Madison boasts the oldest academic glass lab in the United States, according to Mauk.
“We’re the very first academic glass lab in the entire country, and we’re one of three neon programs in the country. The glass is one of the most unique things … so it’s a really big deal,” he remarked.
The furnaces — which are on for the entire academic year — were busy today as members of the Mad Gaffers — a student org for UW Glass students — helped participants make their own customized ornaments by choosing the color and pattern, overseeing the process of heating and shaping the glass and blowing up the ornament through a tube into its characteristic round shape.
Glassblowing is only the beginning of what the Art Department has to offer. It is large but growing, admitting 100 incoming students this year. The undergraduate program is divided into 2-D, 3-D and 4-D — encompassing performance and video arts — disciplines. They offer majors, certificates and many classes for non-majors.
I got a chance to visit that week’s student exhibit, “Microdosing Madness,” which was made by the second-year cohort. The exhibits are highly collaborative and rotate often. Every Monday there's new work being installed, so every weekend there’s something different to see.
My favorite piece in the exhibit was a collage of students’ hand-drawn maps of Madison on the wall. Supplies were set out so visitors could create their own map and add it on. Collectively, the maps showed how one city can be perceived so differently by individuals and how the way we physically conceptualize Madison’s geography is shaped by our own experiences.
I talked with some MFA candidates about their work, which was on display in their studios. Each studio was a step into a different world. Every student’s body of work expressed a unique artistic focus, many using a combination of mediums to do so.
Everyone I talked to appreciated how their program gave them the freedom to be creative and multidisciplinary in creating their art. They could dabble in sculpture and design or drawing and painting while pursuing a photography degree and were encouraged to explore their diverse interests.
The Art Department hosts Open Studio Day in the fall each year and will hold their annual Holiday Sale on Dec. 17 in the Arts Loft from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The sale will offer another opportunity to make glass ornaments but this time paired with a holiday arts and crafts sale. If you want to find beautiful, unique gifts for your loved ones while supporting and getting to know more about the UW-Madison Art Department, you should definitely go.