ARTS LAB

Jolynne Roorda is a co-founder of Arts + Literature Laboratory on 2021 Winnebago St. The grand opening is Saturday night. 

PHOTO BY MICHELLE STOCKER

Leading a creative life, especially professionally, can be isolating.

Artists paint alone in their studios. Writers plug in earbuds and find a secluded corner to work. 

“Writing can be very solitary,” poet Angela Voras-Hills said. "I was looking for writers to bounce ideas off of, share frustrations with, keep me motivated to write.

"There were tons of writers, but for some reason, none of them were together or knew each other."

The creators of Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL), a new space on the east side, want to support artists who may be used to working solo but crave connection. The gallery and workshop space on Winnebago Street has its grand opening party on Saturday.

Festivities will include live music and a "Spontaneous Writing Booth," which will create on-demand short poems in exchange for a donation. ("Like fortune-telling meets a kissing booth, and a poem comes out the other end," the event description proclaims.)

ALL, founded in Connecticut by Jolynne Roorda (who now lives in Madison), was in the process of opening when it merged with The Watershed: A Place for Writers.

The organizers of both groups met last summer, and quickly realized they shared the same vision.  

"We were looking for a place where writers could connect, take workshops about their craft, get a sense of community," said Voras-Hills, a Watershed founder. She is now the literary arts program co-director of ALL (with Rita Mae Reese).

"We would have converged at some point anyway ... even not knowing each other," she said.  

Arts + Literature Laboratory has been "softly" open, Voras-Hills said, since mid-November, hosting two arts exhibitions and some poetry readings. The most recent installation was "Captured," photos of incarcerated youth in Dane County taken by Amber Sowards and Ali Muldrow, both of GSAFE, a Gay-Straight alliance organization.

The newest exhibition is by the collaborative team Simone and Max, called "Select a World." Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky also curated the show "Justified Art" at Overture Center. Their work includes "satellite photographs of islands threatened by sea-level rise" and a fictional video game satirizing climate change tourism," according to a show description, to "investigate the potential of the public screen as a mobilizing force to build empathy, action, and long-term responsibility."

On the writing side, Voras-Hills and Reese have been busily setting up workshops and "craft lectures". Among those coming up are an "Ask the Editor" on Wednesday with Michelle Wildgen of the literary magazine Tin House, and a "Sip + Submit" evening on Jan. 31. (For this, "ALL will provide space, coffee, tea, breakfast treats, and a writer with insider-knowledge of lit mags for questions").

In February, there's a workshop on how to write the first chapter of a young adult novel, and a reading to go along with "Select a World."

ALL is in the process of getting its 501(c)(3) designation as a nonprofit, and applying for grants. Some workshops will require a fee, and at craft lectures, ALL may request a donation.

They're also encouraging membership. That brings benefits like discounts on juried art exhibitions that have an entry fee, discounts on ticketed music concerts and purchases made in house (the dream is to have a "small poetry shop") and possible discounts at local businesses, like The Green Owl. 

While much of the participants at ALL currently come from the east side, Roorda's goal is to grow the organization into one that can serve the entire city. 

"Our hope is that it is an increasingly diverse community, that it feels welcoming," Roorda said. The laboratory will be developing "programs that reach out," like Write Around Madison, which could take writing workshops to jails and community centers. 

ALL was born from asking, "Why doesn’t Madison have something where people can take workshops, like a book club, or a space for moms to come and write and leave their kids in the other room?" Voras-Hills said.

At Arts + Literature Laboratory, "the community and writing converge."

"We had a write in, where writers come in and write together," Voras-Hills added. "We had people from Mt. Horeb, Verona, driving from a distance to join that community. People are interested." 

Since 2008, Lindsay Christians has been writing about fine arts and food for The Capital Times. She loves eating at the bar, going to the theater, fine wine and good stories. She lives on the east side with her husband, two cats and too many cookbooks.