I Need Your Support for Madison Metro Public Art Project

Mockup of 7,400 square foot public artwork, The Time is Ours, on side of Madison Metro Transit System building. The artwork consists of a hand-painted mural and fabricated aluminum CNC-cut shapes installed over the wall.

Update: 4/1/2024

First, thank you to everyone who has already shown up to support me for the Madison Metro Public Art Project. You can still send emails and attend the meeting on 4/3.

On Monday, 4/1, MAC scheduled a Public Standing Committee to create an initial recommendation for how to move forward with the Madison Metro Project. This initial recommendation will inform how MAC votes on Wednesday, 4/3.

What’s Good: City staff used my flowchart of solutions as the basis of their presentation. Their presentation makes it clear that the City best favors a solution that would have me painting directly on the wall, which would honor the original proposal.

What’s Missing: City staff never shared their presentation with me in advance of the 4/1 meeting. This means I never got to have feedback on a document that heavily shaped how MAC’s Public Standing Committee voted. For example, the City document states that the project will stay at both the original scale and budget by 2026. This isn’t possible. Either the project needs to shrink or the budget needs to go up. The presentation does not acknowledge that labor time will also cost more in 2026, both for me and my subcontractors.

The Equity Gap: City staff took the first 30 minutes of the 1-hr meeting for their presentation and questions. Conversely, I only received 3 minutes to give a public testimony, and only after MAC had heard the longer City staff presentation. Consequently, there were requests that I made that MAC never discussed because they ran out of time, and because the line of questioning was already biased by the first presentation.

Register for the MAC meeting on 4/3 to speak publicly in support of solutions that center the artist’s needs.

Original Post 3/25/2024

Dear friends,

I have an unfortunate update about the Madison Metro Public Art Project, awarded to me via public bid in 2022. I’m still committed to seeing this project through. But the project is vulnerable, and I need your support.

It took 18 months to have a workable contract with the City, which I signed, and I was finally scheduled to produce this artwork this summer 2024. However, last week, City staff decided to re-side the Metro building, which pushes my project out to 2026.

The City has created conditions in which I could be ousted as the artist for this project despite overwhelming community support, Madison Arts Commission’s recommendation, and Common Council’s approval in 2022.

For a full explanation of the Madison Metro public art delays, please view:

  1. SUMMARY of the Metro project’s trajectory
  2. TIMELINE for a detailed, unabridged version cited from 201 emails and public records on City of Madison’s website, primarily of events from 2021 to 2024

MAC is meeting on Wednesday, April 3. (There is also a Public Standing Committee on April 1.) Ask MAC to:

  1. Continue supporting Jenie Gao as the recommended artist
  2. Don’t send this back to Common Council, who already approved Jenie Gao as the vendor in 2022
  3. Support the solutions that Jenie Gao needs to make this plausible in 2025-2026

MAC MEETING to discuss Metro Public Art Project

A flowchart of some paths forward I see. I will present this to MAC on Monday 4/1 and Wednesday 4/3.

Letter to the Community

After a diligent review process, Madison Arts Commission recommended Jenie Gao Studio LLC as the selected vendor in October 2022. It took seven months for the City of Madison to send me a first draft of the contract in May 2023, which contained little customization for public art or my specific project. It took another eleven months for the City to send me a contract that was reasonable to sign.

Between April 2022 and March 22, 2024, I have logged 318 hours towards the Metro project, mostly uncompensated. These hours exclude the time I have spent gathering this documentation. To ensure I met the City’s contractual requirements, I also hired an attorney and increased my business insurance coverage. My subcontractors and I reserved May, June, and July 2024 for the Metro project, which has caused us to pass up other work opportunities. This is also the second summer that my subcontractors and I have booked our time only to be forced to change plans due to City delays.

But this isn’t just about labor, time, and monetary loss. It is also about honoring the community that has enthusiastically anticipated the first Percent for Art-funded public art project, and everyone who has participated in my community-centered creative process. It is also about respecting MAC’s original recommendation to hire me for this project, which the City’s ever-changing conditions have thwarted.

I remain committed to this project despite the barriers outlined here. I need MAC and the community-at-large to continue standing by me as your choice.

The Equity Problem

Back in September 2022, I pointed out during my presentation how I was the only person of color in the running for this project. The injustices of municipal processes illustrate why. I previously served on MAC and the Public Art Committee. So I am familiar with other public artists who have said that Madison is a notoriously difficult city to work with. Other artists have also expressed a feeling of being deeply unwanted when trying to produce art for this city.

I can attest that in the 18 months of this contracting process, I have felt unwanted by the City of Madison. But I have kept going because the Madison community, my true client, wants me to succeed in this project.

Finally, one of the saddest parts about writing this, for me, is that for some people it might reaffirm that BIPOC—especially women, femmes, and gender-nonconforming BIPOC—are too difficult to work with as their projects put too big a spotlight on the flaws of institutions. But I spent 18 months fulfilling every request the City made of me, only to be left with no contract, no payment, no work for my subcontractors, no art project, and two summers lost.

It is unfortunate that it is often a necessary skill for people like me to have documented proof that the difficulties didn’t stem from us. Even so, I still believe in the artwork I proposed. The Time is Ours is a reminder that disenfranchised people belong in this community and we deserve to be represented here.

Again, I ask you to support and stand with me as your recommended artist, and to support the solutions that I need to be successful in finishing the Metro public art project.

If the Metro Public Art Project is completed in 2026, it will have been:

  • Nine years since Madison’s Percent for Art Ordinance was created in 2017
  • Five years since the first Percent for Art-funded project RFQ was published
  • Four years since Common Council approved hiring Jenie Gao Studio
  • Three years since Jenie Gao Studio received the first draft of a contract
  • Two years since Jenie Gao Studio first signed the contract
Problem Woman of Color Flowchart, from COCo

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