Paul Fanlund is editor and executive publisher of The Capital Times. A longtime Madisonian, he was a State Journal reporter and editor before becoming a vice president of Madison Newspapers. He joined the Cap Times in 2006.

Cap Times Idea Fest main image

If you’re someone who appreciates the Cap Times and — more importantly — enjoys a thought-provoking, in-person experience, we have just the, um, ticket for you.

Today we announce the “Cap Times Idea Fest,” a two-day smorgasbord of some two dozen sessions on Sept. 16-17, a weekend with no home football game. The festival will be staged across three buildings on the University of Wisconsin campus. UW-Madison was our first co-sponsor.

The festival’s unifying theme is “Reach a Better State,” and the sessions will center on core themes of the economy, equity, education, politics, journalism and culture. While the Cap Times has a tradition of being identified with gatherings focused around progressive opinion, this undertaking is not one of them.

It is instead an opportunity to explore — in a nonpartisan way — some of the most pressing issues facing Wisconsin, and to have some fun. This fall’s launch of the fest is in honor of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Cap Times.

To fully understand the festival it helps to understand what we have done with our Cap Times Talks series of monthly events that began more than two years ago.

Under the leadership of managing editor Chris Murphy, these talks have posed what we believe are timely questions: “How many new apartments does Madison need?” was one well-attended example last year. We convened a panel of experts that drew almost 300 spectators to the High Noon Saloon, one of our frequent venues. Topics have varied but the turnouts, even on bad-weather weeknights, have been impressive — often 200 people or more.

This new Idea Fest takes that concept — that people appreciate well-crafted experiences that both educate and entertain — and builds something much bigger. While the inaugural fest coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Cap Times, it will be an annual event and not a one-time celebration.

In most time slots, attendees will have their choice among multiple, simultaneous sessions. The festival is built around provocative session topics more than celebrity names, but plenty of notables will be there.

On the topic of the news, for example, we will feature Marty Baron, executive editor of the Washington Post, talking about journalism in the age of Donald Trump. Baron was previously editor of The Boston Globe and was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight” in 2015.

Baron will be interviewed by David Maraniss, a Pulitzer-winning Washington Post editor and a Madison native whose father was editor of the Cap Times. Maraniss will also be featured in another session about the book he is writing on Joe McCarthy, Wisconsin’s infamous anti-Communist senator.

On the economy, we will feature many prominent voices, among them Kevin Conroy, CEO and founder of Exact Sciences, and Deb Carey, the colorful and entrepreneurial founder of the New Glarus Brewing Company.

Another panel about the economy will feature Charles Franklin, the Marquette professor who is the state’s most prominent pollster, with Amy Goldstein, the Washington Post reporter who earlier this year released her fascinating book titled “Janesville: An American Story” about the closing of the General Motors plant there. Their session will focus on Wisconsin’s uneven economic recovery and the path from here.

On politics, the program is still coming together, but we will feature two prominent Democratic U.S. senators — Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar — as well as our state’s most iconic living Republican — Tommy Thompson. We will have other political figures from both sides, including Mark Pocan, Madison’s congressman.

On equity and education, one expert we will feature is Gloria Ladson-Billings, a UW-Madison professor and a leading national authority on culturally relevant teaching.

We also will also offer familiar names under cultural headings, such as a conversation with UW Athletic Director Barry Alvarez with Chris Stone, editor of Sports Illustrated. And we will have a panel on the future of Wisconsin’s farm-to-table movement featuring, among others, Tory Miller, perhaps Madison’s most prominent chef.

But we think the magic of the festival will be in the depth and breadth of the panel topics. A sampling:

What’s the best case for Wisconsin’s economic future?

How can we capitalize on tech-sector growth?

How can we reduce our prison population?

What’s next for the state’s GOP?

And what is next for Wisconsin progressives?

How do we build a racially diverse middle class?

How about campaign 2030 — what might the issues be then?

Can hip-hop help shape Wisconsin culture?

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What about the state’s seldom-heard Native American voices?

Wisconsin’s rocky roads: tolls, taxes, bikes, trains — what do we need?

What’s next for immigrant farm labor in Wisconsin?

What is our best path to recovery from the state’s opioid epidemic?

Our venues will be the Discovery Center, Union South and Gordon Commons on the UW campus. We begin Saturday morning, Sept. 16, and run into the afternoon of Sunday, Sept. 17. Tickets for the weekend are $50 for the general public and $20 for students. Visit for tickets and up-to-date information on attending.

For the audience, we hope to offer a broad menu of varied and utterly engaging conversations, and we anticipate that group of attendees will be large and diverse. As we are on campus during the school year and co-sponsored by UW-Madison, we expect many students will attend.

It’s worth noting that our Cap Times Talks series already has attracted audiences you wouldn’t expect at a newspaper-sponsored event. A year ago, we hosted a panel on nurturing women leaders that packed 100state, the downtown Madison coworking community, with about 175 people, almost all of whom were younger women.

We have talked with many leaders in Madison in developing this concept. Let me emphasize what it is not — a progressive political rally, or a gathering primarily built around beer, food or music.

Instead, what our festival does is recognize that many modern news and information consumers want to witness and participate — in person — in civil and thoughtful conversations on a wide array of topics.

For the Cap Times, we think this is right in our wheelhouse, complementing our long-time mission built on aggressive and enterprising journalism, progressive opinion and a deep record of community philanthropy.

After all, it was our founder, William T. Evjue, who wrote: “Let the people have the truth and the freedom to discuss it and all will go well.” Mr. Evjue wasn’t afraid to experiment with new platforms decades ago — back then, he helped launch a radio station, which was the next big thing — and we think he would smile on this endeavor.

The main thing, though, is that we think the Cap Times Idea Fest will be a pretty cool experience for many of you. Hope to see you there.

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