Story by Julie Campbell
If artists were natural resources, the charming southern Indiana town of Madison would be the richest place in the state. Located on the scenic banks of the Ohio River and home to one of only 10 designated Arts & Cultural Districts in Indiana, the Madison arts scene is alive and well on every block, street, nook and cranny. As a matter of fact, the entire town is art.
“Madison has everything – we have an amazing natural environment. Our built environment – the architecture – is just crazy good,” says Kim Nyberg, director of the Madison Area Arts Alliance (MAAA). “And then we have a large collection of wonderfully creative people – and traditionally this community has been an arts community. It’s been here for hundreds of years.”
Strolling through the streets of downtown Madison, you’ll encounter an amazing collection of creatives and organizations dedicated to the arts through fine art, music, theater, traditional trades, creative writing, culinary arts, healing arts, wine making, brew making, photography and art education. There’s literally something for everyone, says Nyberg, and if a particular art form is missing, “we can always add more cogs to the wheel.”
Art on Main, a large light- filled gallery on Main Street, hosts regular shows for the 88-member Madison Arts Club. There you’ll meet Elle Smith, the president of the art club and a seasoned artist herself, who lives in a circa 1839 home in downtown, graduated from Madison High School and has lived in the town off and on throughout the years.
“When my family first came to Madison, I only lived up on the hill,” she recalls. “But when my husband and I decided to come back to Madison in 2004, we moved downtown, and it’s a different world here. You can walk just about anywhere you want to go, you can walk down to the river, and you can see all the activities that go on in the town.”
Just across the street, Gallery 115 offers an eclectic, multi-purpose space to stop in for a sandwich, dessert or cup of coffee, and browse the paintings of award-winning artist Eric Phagan. Part art gallery, part home décor gift shop and part café, Gallery 115 is home to Phagan’s studio and gallery, and some days, you might just catch him making art in his second-floor studio.
Down the street a few blocks, Rembrandt’s Gallery and Wine Bar began as a place where owner Bob Maile created custom wooden tables, and eventually morphed into a stylish gallery and wine bar as well.
“About 10 years ago, when we felt our tables were at the level of functional artwork, we decided to put a gallery around it to prove it,” Maile explains. “So we found about 50 different artists and artisans from all around the state and some from other states. And then we started the wine bar about 4 1⁄2 years ago, with the idea of trying to bring more people in to see the tables and the artwork.”
For architecture lovers, there’s never a dull moment while strolling the streets of downtown Madison. The town boasts the largest historic district in the state and the largest contiguous National Historic Landmark District in the United States – over 133 blocks on the National Register of Historic Places and three National Historic Landmarks. Tour the Lanier Mansion, the crown jewel of Madison’s Historic District; the Francis Costigan House, a freshly restored Greek Revival townhouse built by Madison’s premier architect and master builder for his family; the Schroder Saddletree Factory Museum, America’s only restored 19th century saddletree factory, that gives tours, demonstrations and exhibits; and the Shrewsbury- Windle House, a circa 1849 home designed in classic Greek Revival style (by appointment only). Be sure to check www.historicmadisoninc.com or www.indianastatemuseum.org (Lanier Mansion) for more historic homes to tour, tour times and admission costs.
And while you’re out for a stroll, don’t forget to look for MAAA’s latest public arts initiative, The Switch Box Project, which has transformed ordinary aluminum switch boxes around the town into works of art.
In the mood for some soothing tunes? Music lovers can take their pick from a number of venues in downtown Madison. Many restaurants and bars feature live music on a weekly basis. And Red Bicycle Hall on Main Street is the premier venue for live music and theater events, often bringing in popular bands from around the country to its living room-style venue.
House of Jane, owned by local barber and artist Jane Vonderheide, hosts House of Jane Songwriter Sessions at her shop. The idea behind the sessions is to bring one local songwriter and one Nashville or regional songwriter together
in an intimate (20 person) concert similar to NPR’s Tiny Desk series. If you’re looking to brush up on your rusty guitar skills or purchase an instrument to play, Crawdaddy Music offers music lessons and also has a large selection of new, used and rare vintage musical instruments.
And don’t forget to catch the myriad of festivals and events featuring music, food, art and performing arts happening all year long in this art-rich community!
For more information, visit www.visitmadison.org.