My best summer days are unplanned, unhurried, and usually contain some sort of unexpected gift–like riding bikes along Lake Monona on a perfect evening, sharing a local brew in the backyard with neighbors, or maybe discovering a new favorite eating spot. But often Madison, where I live, offers up such a bounty of cultural delights that we need to strategize a little.
In Madison, Art Fair on the Square and Art Fair off the Square take place annually in July.
Yesterday was such a day, with three of our favorite summer events occurring in one weekend: the Saturday Dane County Farmers’ Market, the Art Fairs On and Off the Square, and La Fete de Marquette. (Actually, that’s four events, with the two art fairs running side by side.)
Whenever we can, we get up early Saturday mornings and bike the three miles to Capitol Square, where the Dane County Farmers’ Market is held. Now approaching its 40th anniversary, the DCFM is the largest producer-only market in the nation, which means every vendor, behind every table piled with flowers or vegetables, breads or cheeses, grew or baked or prepared their wares themselves. This week, we came home with green beans, tomatoes, raspberries and zucchini for our dinner table.
For us, a visit to the market has to include a stop at the Graze pastry cart for a cup of coffee and a bite of delicious, just-baked flakiness. Graze always presents a variety, but as usual I enjoyed the mushroom and spinach bun, while my husband got his Pain au Chocolat fix. (We tell ourselves the bike ride offsets the buttery indulgence.)
On Art Fair weekend, the farmers’ market gets displaced a block so that participating artists can set up their booths on the four blocks surrounding the Square. We had timed our farmers’ market visit perfectly, which allowed us to take in the booths before afternoon crowds swelled. At Art Fair On the Square, more than 450 artists from around the country display works in all media. This year, jewelry and handbags made of recycled inner tubing caught my eye, as did affordable art-themed t-shirts by Madison’s Wildwood Productions. The fair benefits the Madison Museum of Contemporary Arts (MMoCA), always free and open to the public.
The Madison Area High School Ceramists sell pots, pitchers, cups and bowls at Art Fair Off the Square.
At Art Fair Off the Square, I scored a lovely ceramic plate at the Madison Area High School Ceramists booth. An annual favorite, the booth displays and sells works by, you guessed it, Madison area high school ceramists. I like knowing that 80 percent of my purchase went to Jenna, the young artist who made my plate, and the remaining 20 percent supports Madison public school art programs. In fact, at Art Fair off the Square, along Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and on the Monona Terrace Convention Center Esplanade, every booth features the works of Wisconsin artists.
We actually had time to finish a home painting project and run some weekend errands before heading to La Fete de Marquette, also a short bike ride away. A celebration of French music and culture, this annual festival never fails to do Madison’s Marquette neighborhood proud. Top-notch performers from throughout the French-speaking world, along with some of the city’s best eateries, provide four days of French-themed fun. Relatively new to the festival is La Tente de Dance, a dance floor dedicated to Quebecois and Cajun dance. The fest also showcases the vibrant personality of Madison’s East Side, for some of the best people-watching all year. We felt lucky to see Maraca, a Cuban jazz band that had the whole crowd moving. (Sometimes the connection to France isn’t immediately apparent, but who minded? Not me.)
Both art fairs and the Marquette festival continue through today, July 10.
I may be based in Madison, but I also manage PortalWisconsin.org’s online events calendar, so I know communities in all 72 Wisconsin counties hold their own summer markets, fairs and festivals. This weekend alone, you’ll find a polka festival in Ellsworth, a pow-wow in Lac du Flambeau, or for those who like it large, Milwaukee’s grand Summerfest and Rhinelander’s star-studded Hodag Country Music Festival. Art fests abound everywhere as well. To find them, consult the calendar–or for a print copy of this year’s Wisconsin Arts Board Art and Craft Fair Directory, call 1-800-432-8747 between 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.
And please, let us know what makes your local fair or festival special. We love hearing from you.