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Capitol bus shelters transformed by temporary public-art installation
Nina Bednarsky embellished the bus shelter on the first block of South Pinckney Street.
Credit:David Medaris

Those decorated bus shelters around Madison's Capitol Square are a temporary public art installation. Funded by a Madison Arts Commission Blink grant, the installation is titled Destination and was executed on Sunday, July 1.

The project was conceived and organized by local artist Melanie Kehoss, and includes work by artists Nina Bednarsky, Sean Bodley, Craig Grabhorn, Nick Hartley, Darryl Jensen, Kehoss and John Riepenhoff, who decorated one shelter each. The installation continues through July 29. A walk-through with the contributing artists is scheduled for 1-3 p.m. Saturday, July 21, with each artist elaborating on their respective shelter.

Meanwhile, you can dial up each participant's artist statement by phone. Riepenhoff talks about his shelter at the corner of Main and Hamilton streets at 243-0131. One digit up at 243-0132, you'll hear Grabhorn discuss his shelter at Main and King. Bednarsky explains her work on the King/Pinckney shelter at 243-0133. To hear what Kehoss has to say about her approach to the shelter at Hamilton and Pinckney, dial 243-0134. Darryl Jensen expands on his Hamilton/Mifflin shelter at 243-0135, while Bodley and Hartley recount their collaboration on the shelter at State, Mifflin and Carroll streets at 243-0136.

Their works, along with the shelters themselves, are scheduled for demolition starting July 29. This past May, the Madison Common Council approved the replacement of Madison Metro's Capitol Square bus shelters with brighter, airier shelters that will afford greater visibility (An artist's rendition can be viewed here). Installation is scheduled to follow the existing shelters' demolition.

"Destination" serves as a kind of last hurrah for the existing shelters. Kehoss describes it as "a fleeting public art project" and an "artful farewell to the Capitol Square bus shelters."

The artists had one day to execute their vision for their assigned shelter. As you might expect, this constraint has resulted in uneven work. As I toured the shelters on Monday, my own responses varied from "cool" to "ugh" to "hmmm" to "I don't get it, but I like it." Madison Arts Program Administrator Karin Wolf, who helped to facilitate the project, says she doesn't care for all the resulting shelters, but enjoys most of them.

I have no reservations about the concept itself, for several reasons. For one thing, it reminds me of the time -- this was way back in childhood as an impressionable kid -- when my parents decided to have the bathroom remodeled. Before the contractor came in, my folks invited a bunch of their friends over for a party during which guests were encouraged to draw and write whatever they wanted on the doomed wallpaper. The results included such clever aphorisms as "The flatter the platter, the fewer the soup," along with some wild artistic visions.

Two, "Destination" is the sort of public-art project you see all the time in Europe and other places that are open to irreverent, inventive, witty and edgy public displays -- places where the default setting of public officials to such proposals is, "Sure, why not?" instead of "We have to go through channels and observe procedures and talk the idea to death and send the idea through a maze of committees."

Third, even if I don't like all the resulting works, I appreciate the impulse to use a doomed structure as a temporary medium for expression.

Fourth, it highlights the agility of the Madison Arts Commission's Blink Grant program as a mechanism for funding experimental, temporary public-art installations like this -- works that use construction sites, parks and public places as their canvas.

And fifth, it has put Patti Smith's incendiary cover of the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" in heavy rotation on the radio station that lives in my head -- reminding me that I need to buy tickets for her August 5 show at the Barrymore.

There are other reasons I find "Destination" appealing, but you don't need me to blather on. Instead, what you need me to do is call your attention to the accompanying gallery of images gathered during a couple of tours of the decorated shelters.

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