For a long time, art and art museums have been traditionally white spaces presenting masterpieces by white male artists and maintaining a Eurocentric focus.

Expect that to not be the case when the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) presents its annual Art Fair on the Square this weekend. This major event draws people from across the region, generates nearly $25 million for the local economy, and elevates fine arts and crafts. And it has purposely worked to become more diverse and youthful than in years past.

“Diversity is important to us on a very personal level,” Annik Dupaty, director of events and volunteers at MMoCA, tells Madison365. “It’s important for young people of all backgrounds to see art on display and say, ‘Oh, I can make a living as an artist! I can travel the world as an artist! Oh, I can sell this type of artwork … I can create that!’ It’s all about knowing that it is a possibility.”

Annik Dupaty, director of events and volunteers at MMoCA
Annik Dupaty, director of events and volunteers at MMoCA

This year, Art Fair on the Square will showcase the work of nearly 500 artists, displaying original fine art and craft, handmade clothing, original photography, jewelry, and much more. Nearly 200,000 patrons are expected to visit the booths, and enjoy music, entertainment, international cuisine, and locally sourced fare, all set against the lovely backdrop of the State Capitol.

“This is our 58th annual Art Fair on the Square, so we are older than the Super Bowl. I like to brag about that a little bit,” Dupaty says. “Of those 500 artists, many come from all around the country and some come from out of the country.”

Every year, Dupaty selects a jury panel to evaluate Art Fair on the Square applications which help her determine which artists to include in the fair. They review the artwork images in terms of skill, originality, impact, and design. “Since joining MMoCA, I have made a point to ensure that a wide range of voices and types of expertise are represented on the panel,” Dupaty says. “The 2016 jury panel includes photographer Amber Sowards, whose work was a part of the Justified Art! juried exhibition at the Overture Center for the Arts last year. Also of note, Sowards was one of 100 photographers recently selected to participate in the New York Times Portfolio Review.”

Amber Sowards
Amber Sowards

Dupaty is excited about the EMERGE block that MMoCA is launching with the Art Fair on the Square this year that is creating a new way to support and encourage the next generation of artists. The 100 block of State Street will be dedicated to emerging artists who have been selected by a jury process. The Emerge Block will give skilled, yet developing artists, the much-needed experience of selling work at a major art fair, and will offer fairgoers a look at up-and-coming artists.

“We encouraged young people, people just starting out in their careers, and people who aren’t traditionally represented at art fairs to apply. We really tried to get the word out this year for its first year and it will be something that we build on for years to come,” Dupaty says. “We’ll have about a dozen emerging artists out at the fair this year.”

This new EMERGE block section of Art Fair on the Square will also feature emerging businesses and a chance to sample new products. “We’re hoping that not only does it attract the next generation of exhibiting artists or artists that participate in art fairs, but also that it will attract a more youthful audience to the fair and a more diverse body to the fair,” Dupaty says. “State Street has that way about it that welcomes people up into the Capitol [Square].”

Families enjoy Art Cart's hands-on art-making activities at parks around Dane County each summer.
Families enjoy Art Cart’s hands-on art-making activities at parks around Dane County each summer.

Art Fair on the Square continues to be one of the largest art fairs in the Midwest and is rated among the best fine art shows in North America by artists and by publications such as Sunshine Artist and Art Fair Source Book. It is the signature event for MMoCA, an independent organization that exhibits, collects, and preserves modern and contemporary art to provide, as its mission statement says “transformative experiences that educate, reflect, and inspire us as individuals and a community.”

“MMoCA has been in the [Overture Center] building for 10 years and serving the community for 115 years, so it’s the oldest cultural organization in the city … which is ironic because it’s contemporary art,” smiles Erika Monroe-Kane, director of communications for MMoCA. “A big part of what we do are our free admission to our exhibitions and programs. We have a lot of programs geared toward youths, but we have a lot of adult programming, as well.

Monroe-Kane says that MMoCA seeks to serve a broad audience. They have many great free family resources including MMoCA ArtPack, MMoCA Learning Centers, and Art Cart and family and school programs like “Kid’s Art Adventures” and “Young at Art” exhibitions. “We seek to engage youth in the transformative of art and art-making. We’re really looking very hard at how we engage people in our art-making,” she says. “We do all of this for free and we do it through our fundraising from special events like Art Fair on the Square, which is our largest event and fundraiser.”

MMoCA's Art Zone
MMoCA’s Art Zone

Art Fair on the Square, because it is held out on the street and there is no admission, can be an unintimidating way for people to explore art. “Art Fair on the Square has the ability to not be intimidating and to welcome people even if you’re not yet comfortable talking about art or approaching art,” Dupaty says. “Instead of thinking of it as coming to a museum and having to have some preconceived notions and knowledge of art, you can just come and have a brat and a beer and listen to some music and just sneak your way into artwork. I think it’s just more comfortable approach for people.”

At this year’s Art Fair on the Square, there will be a celebrity art fair picks as well-known Madisonians share their top-10 picks for Art Fair on the Square 2016. “[Alder]Maurice Cheeks made his picks. [Director of Development & Communications at Briarpatch Youth Services, Inc.] Cedric Johnson did it. Emily Locke [founder and CEO of Hive Social Club] did hers. We’re looking at people specifically of different ethnic heritages and a younger audience,” Monroe-Kane says. “We’re also doing an Instagram Takeover this weekend, and [100State Executive Director] Greg St. Fort will be doing that. Maurice Cheeks will be doing Instagram Takeover. Ja’Mel [Ware] from Intellectual Ratchet will be doing some social media … we have a new partnership with them.

“We wanted to create ways for people to see, ‘Oh, I might like the same artwork as Cedric [Johnson] … what are his top-10 picks?’” she adds. “So it doesn’t feel overwhelming and it’s another way to get people into the fair who might not think that it’s for them.”

Art Fair on the Square will be open on Saturday, July 9, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, July 10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.

“I think the Art Fair on the Square represents a really unique opportunity in the Midwest and in Wisconsin to see this number of artists and this much artwork at one time and one place … and this wide range of artwork in one place,” Dupaty says. “It’s outdoors and very accessible and non-intimidating. It’s a neat experience that you won’t get anywhere else in life.”