Madison arts organization receives funding for program benefiting local writers

Madison locals gather at the Arts + Literature Lab for an evening of quiet writing. (Jolynne Roorda)Madison locals gather at the Arts + Literature Lab for an evening of quiet writing. (Jolynne Roorda) 

The Madison Arts Commission recently awarded a grant to the Arts + Literature Laboratory that will fund a program designed to help local writers find their voice and strengthen the local writing community.

Karin Wolfe, the arts administrator for the Madison Arts Commission, said the commission was eager to support the Art + Literature Laboratory and believes the organization will become a valuable resource for Madison writers for years to come.

“Our commissioners who were in charge of choosing the grants were very excited about this application,” Wolfe said. “One thing we were looking for was the professional development of local writers. The Art + Literature Lab totally hit the sweet spot, and we were very happy to support them.”

The arts organization received a total of $2,885 from the Madison Arts Commission and the Wisconsin Arts Board and will use the funds to expand the Professional Development Series for Writers, a free program that includes monthly write-ins and talks from professionals in the field.

Rita Reese, co-director of literary arts programming at the Arts + Literature Laboratory, said the write-ins offer an inviting environment for writers to be productive and inspired.

“All types of writers can come in and get work done without having to listen to an espresso machine in the background or hear other conversations around you,” Reese said. “It’s just a quiet space to work with other writers, talk about ideas and browse our small press library with some of the best publications.”

In the past, talks, emphasizing the craft of writing, have focused on how to find your writing community and writing about place One featured an editor from the literary journal Tin House who talked about how to approach the submission process. 

Reese said the organization is grateful for the opportunity to build upon the Professional Development Series for Writers and strengthen the presence of writing in Madison.

“Storytelling is one of the most ancient forms of creative expression,” Reese said. “Narrative is not a diversion, it’s how we see the world. When we create a story we create meaning out of all the information that is being thrown at us. Seeing that done well gives us a model for filtering out the things that don’t increase value in our life.”

Poet and UW-Madison Creative Writing Instructor Sean Bishop reads original work at a monthly reading session. (Jolynne Roorda)Poet and UW-Madison Creative Writing Instructor Sean Bishop reads original work at a monthly reading session. (Jolynne Roorda)

In addition to providing programs and resources for local writers, the Arts + Literature Laboratory is a place for artists across all genres. Located on the east side of Madison, the organization often hosts juried shows, concerts and dramatic performances to strengthen the entire arts culture in Madison.

According to Reese, community arts are essential to creating a welcoming place to live. 

“People don’t move to a neighborhood because a bank is there, they move because it has a cultural offering that they want to be a part of,” Reese said. “The arts strengthen community pride and create a more vibrant place where people want to be.”

Reese believes Madison is on its way to becoming an affordable and attractive place for artists to live and work but wishes to see more support from the state government.

“In terms of state support of the arts, we rank towards the bottom,” Reese said. “It would be nice to see more support from the state in terms of individual grants. Art isn’t something that happens and then it’s done. It’s an ongoing process." 

According to jobsite, neighboring Minnesota had the second highest state funding for the arts per capita in 2010. Wisconsin ranked 41 out of all U.S. states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The next Professional Development Series for Writers write-in will be held on July 6 from 7 to 9 p.m. The upcoming talk offering various writing prompts, “Language Looking for Context,” will take place on July 20.