The corner of State, Henry and Johnson streets is a busy one, and the first location on the 300 block of State Street where a public kiosk has yet to be replaced.
"They're late but they're coming."
Ald. Mike Verveer is referring to public kiosks set to be installed on the 300 and 400 blocks of State Street. These are the barrel-shaped structures scattered along the western half of the street where musicians, promoters and campus groups and others post fliers, posters and various advertisements seeking to draw buzz and bodies.
Madison has a rich kiosk culture, one that helps define the pedestrian atmosphere in the heart of the city. But now it looks like these kiosks are disappearing, removed from the middle two blocks of State Street.
Through the spring and summer, these two blocks of the city's spinal cord were reconstructed in Phase 3 of a $17 million, four-year long undertaking to renovate the street. On Monday, Sept. 25, Mayor Dave Cieslewicz, Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin and various downtown boosters gathered to formally reopen the street, with a ceremonial switching on of the new overhead street-lamps. But things really aren't completed yet, as evidenced by the missing kiosks.
The people who use these kiosks have noticed their absence. While online social networking is playing a greater role in building audiences for musical acts big and small, flyers and posters remain important to publicizing upcoming events.
"For a long time, Madison has been a fairly kiosk-y town," says Nathan Meltz, a local musician and artist. "The actual effectiveness of flyering has long been debated, but those of us who utilize the kiosks as both informational and artistic venues would be facing slimming opportunities" without the structures.
The kiosks are also important to concert promoters. Tag Evers of True Endeavors Productions uses them to get the word out about many shows coming to town. Without kiosks, he says, "all kinds of local groups and individuals, from campus organizations to local bands to independent promoters like myself," would be hindered in promoting their events.
There are two new structures already built on the central blocks of State Street, in front of Shakti and the Sacred Feather, that allow promotion of events. They are about ten feet tall with a map of the isthmus on one side and an enclosed glass display case on the other. They are actually electrical boxes for the new lights on the renovated street. Most of the fliers enclosed within promote events at the Overture Center and Monona Terrace.
This hasn't stopped local concert promoters from trying to use them, however. Steve Sperling, manager of the Barrymore Theatre, successfully gained access after noticing the absence of the laissez-faire kiosks.
"We discovered that the city was putting up these new glass displays," he says. "We found that they are handled by the city parks department. We brought them 11 packets of posters, with about eight posters for different Barrymore shows in each packet." Some of these fliers -- the familiar type with black printing on the bright neon-shaded paper -- were posted in the case on the 300 block of State Street.
But others who once used the kiosks -" small bands for instance -- have been left out in the cold. And Sperling wishes the public had greater input. "I don't want to cast a negative light on what they're doing until we know for sure," he says. "But one would think that the city would have contacted at least some of us whose posters are out there on a regular basis and found out what we thought and let us know what was going on."
The new kiosks, says Verveer are now being built, at the instigation of State Street design project oversight committee.
"We absolutely have always intended to replace those kiosks that allow the public to post everything from political statements to advertising," he says. "All of us to a person realized how critically important they are and realize how much they contribute to the funky cool nature of State Street."
Other "finishing touches" of the redesign, says Verveer, are also still in the works. These include elements to the new streetlights, banners, and upcoming holiday decorations. Some trees have yet to be planted, with the city waiting until after Halloween and its concomitant danger of drunken vandalism.
The kiosks themselves will look different than the existing structures. Instead of being round, they will feature two curved faces. They won't be wooden, to reduce the risk of fire. And they'll feature an ornamental feature at the top similar to those on the electrical boxes/display cases already in place. "But they will have as much if not more square footage," note Verveer.
The other alder whose district includes a portion of State Street has also seen the new kiosks. "They're not going to be the gritty kiosks of old," explains Austin King. "The fact that we're putting up new kiosks doesn't mean that State Street is not being gentrified, though," noting the concerns of those who feared that they would be removed for good.
"Downtown elected officials spend a lot of time flyer-ing those kiosks too," King quips, "so keeping them definitely is in our interest."