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Rotary Centennial Plaza Complete with Signs of the Times

Tuesday, December 18, City staff will erect what will look like street signs on the poles surrounding the stage at Rotary Centennial Plaza at the intersection of N Pinckney and E Mifflin. But rather than containing information about one’s physical location, as street signs typically do, these “signs of the times” are part of a collaborative art project the City and its partners created and will offer reference points of a more existential nature. Carefully selected words are likely to either amuse or bemuse passersby. In the best possible world onlookers will experience a state of reverie (which, by the way, Emily Dickinson spelled “revery”).

Several years ago, the Rotary Club of Madison (Rotary) and the Madison Children’s Museum (MCM) met with the Madison Arts Commission (MAC) about creating a public art project for the Rotary Centennial Plaza at the corner of North Pinckney and East Mifflin. The three entities agreed they wanted to commission a project that would, according to the initial request for proposals, “express the fun and wonderment that children and families experience when they visit the center of Madison, and also provide the City with a sophisticated visual anchor for the daily traffic of workers, residents, and visitors to the area.”
An independently appointed selection committee recommended hiring Aaron Stephan to serve as the consulting artist. A contemporary conceptual artist from Portland, Maine, Stephan’s work uses irony and humor to insert playful twists into otherwise ordinary, unnoticeable spaces. Stephan took the artistic lead on a design team that included Rotarian and Landscape Architect David Schreiber, City Planner Rebecca Cnare, and Artist and Madison Children’s Museum Director of Exhibits, Brenda Baker. 
As the Rotary Club of Madison, the Children’s Museum and the City began assessing the site’s design needs, they honed in on the stage at Rotary Centennial Plaza. When the Rotary Centennial Plaza was established in 2011, the City installed placeholder poles around a stage area adjacent the Madison Children’s Museum for completion in a future phase. For many months, the poles stood barren. Rotary, MCM, and the City agreed the project should "complete the stage" and thereby finish the plaza.
The resulting collaborative project, Roads Diverge, is based on Stephan’s artistic vision with safety, budget, and aesthetic collaboration from the design team as they worked to navigate the City approval process. The Common Council voted to give the green light for fabrication on November 19, 2013. Roads Diverge is being installed today. 

The project was initiated, partially funded and championed by the Rotary Club of Madison. Rotarian Laura Peck served as the Rotary liaison and patient advisor throughout the process. Funding for the fabrication and installation was provided by the  Madison Arts Commission. The design fee for the consulting artist was generously supported by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that the Madison Children's Museum secured as part of their commitment to this public space.


Public Art