It’s no secret in local arts circles that Angela Richardson runs from project to project, spreading her arts gospel like Johnny Appleseed or a pollen-laden bumblebee.
Richardson — a multimedia artist whose day job is serving as aesthetics and business project coordinator at UW-Madison School of Business — is bringing the arts down to street level, where everyone can participate.
During her residency at the maker-focused Bubbler, Richardson is holding family drawing programs, book-making workshops and open studios. At her fast-paced “drawing gyms,” she provides the supplies and the encouragement, with the goal of getting participants “out of your head and into your hands,” regardless of experience.
Interactive art is at the heart of Richardson’s residency. “It’s this realm of art that’s recently come into fashion. It’s called social practice,” she says. “It’s art that uses people as the medium to get at some sort of curiosity.”
Before she began working with the business school — where she is charged with infusing creative thinking into the curriculum — Richardson served as program coordinator for the UW’s interdisciplinary Arts Institute. But that’s only the beginning of her prodigious output. In just the last few years, while earning her MFA, Richardson has worked closely with Lynda Barry — the cartoonist, assistant UW professor and fellow at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery. She has given talks at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art and led workshops at the Madison Children’s Museum.
She’s also created sock monsters and, at special events, impersonated Wonder Woman.
Karin Wolf, program coordinator for the city of Madison Arts Commission, has been a fan since she started working with Richardson in 2007 after the city granted Richardson a BLINK grant (funds for short-term art installations) for a photo project in the Atwood neighborhood titled “The Face of a Place.” Wolf says Richardson brings an unusual amount of energy to everything she does, calling her a “talented artist and arts organizer.”
Richardson’s interdisciplinary work inspires others to try making art, Wolf adds: “She embraces life and learning with great energy and thoughtfulness, inspiring many to do the same — including myself.”
During a recent open studio event at the dedicated Bubbler space next to the children’s area in the Central Library, Richardson described her life and her work, pausing occasionally to entertain visitors rotating in and out. In conversation, Richardson’s hands are always in motion, as if she’s playing miniature tennis, forehand and backhand.
“A lot of what I’m doing with the activities going on here is to maybe move things a bit further away from drafts and drawings,” says Richardson. “Just get people shaking it loose, because — and I know this from having taught — so many people are afraid to draw.”
Richardson has experience in liberating people’s inner artists. In 2007-08, she organized and oversaw a local branch of Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School, a sort of all-inclusive Dada workshop, founded in Brooklyn and now in more than 100 cities.
Most of her recent work involves interacting and collaborating with audiences, such as “SPILL,” a series of one-on-one conversations that she transcribed into sprawling cursive as part of the 2013 Wisconsin Triennial.
That work is a perfect illustration of Richardson’s ability to bridge the worlds of visual art and performance.
“I have that heavy-duty background in performance,” she says. “And I’m also a visual artist. So for me it’s really natural to think about how to blend those things. And I do enjoy the social aspect of making art with other people.”
“I think that’s one of the interesting things about Angela,” says Trent Miller, the library “head Bubblerarian” who oversees programming. (Yes, that’s his official title.) “Not all artists can engage the public in the same way that she does.” Richardson finds muses everywhere. In addition to crediting her partner, Paul, she finds inspiration in her dog, Zizi; the blue heeler/rat terrier even appears on recent Bubbler literature.
Works by participants in Richardson’s “Draw, Draw, Draw!” event at Central Library.
Richardson was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her family moved to the Midwest when she was young, and she grew up in Freeport, Ill., just across the Wisconsin border from Monroe, where her father was employed as a “computer guy” and her mom worked a variety of jobs.
“They were not in the arts but were both lovers of the arts,” says Richardson. “I was a total ham, and my parents also really encouraged my younger brother and me to be creative,” she says. “Dance lessons, drawing lessons, making things together at home. Paper and crayons on the table at all times. Do whatever you want, but make something.”
Looking back, Richardson says she feels lucky to have grown up in an environment where creativity was valued. “I don’t know if I ever had that ‘Eureka, I want to be an artist’ moment, but it was just so completely woven into life.”
After high school, Richardson spent a year as an exchange student in Tokyo, and in 1990 moved to Madison to attend the university.
When it came time to choose a major, Richardson took “a flying leap” and decided to pursue art. “It’s one of those funny things that even though my parents encouraged me, when it actually came time to be an artist, there was a little bit of, whoa!” she says, laughing. At first, her parents were concerned about the practicality of the move, especially because she was the first in the family ever to attend college.
But there was no turning away from the arts. She describes herself as “driven” to make art, even though for years she needed to piece together a living, project to project.
Now, she says while gesturing around the Bubbler space, she has a good balance. “I’m fortunate to have a job proper and do things like this that are more community-based.”
Richardson says she plans to also use her month-long residency to learn more about the library: “It’s my big excuse to explore things I’m curious about here, and ask lots of questions of the staff, and about the space, and interact with patrons, and do a lot of drawing as a way of exploring those curiosities. I’ll be drawing people, I’ll be drawing the building.” She laughs. “I’ll be drawing conclusions.”
For more information on Richardson’s programs and residency at the Madison Public Library, visit madisonbubbler.org.