From art to architecture, Madison, Wisconsin, is a hub for its cultural attractions, including highlights from local legend Frank Lloyd Wright.
For the 150th anniversary of Wright’s birth, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism rolled out a self-guided driving tour spotlighting some of the world-renowned architect’s most famous structures.
Born about an hour’s drive west of Madison in Richland Center, University of Wisconsin-Madison alumni Wright constructed several masterworks close to home, including the First Unitarian Society Meeting House, family home Taliesin and Monona Terrace.
“There’s a lot of interest in Frank Lloyd Wright for visiting groups,” said Rob Guard, senior manager, PR and communications of the Greater Madison CVB.
That’s really only the beginning of the story for arts and culture in Wisconsin’s state capital, a destination that rests comfortably at the intersection of premium meeting amenities and energizing cultural experiences.
“When we do familiarization tours for planners, we include cultural and arts components so they can get a feel for what we have to offer to attendees,” Guard said.
“Something that speaks volumes to Madison as a meetings destination is how high our closing ratio is when we have planners come and visit,” Guard added. “There’s only so much you can do over the phone or through proposals. It’s really letting our city speak for itself that [clinches] that deal and brings groups here.”
Dynamic Event Spaces
Wright began designing the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in the late ’30s and devoted himself to refining the project for the next 20 years. Unfortunately, it was not to be realized in his lifetime.
Monona Terrace has the distinction of not only being the architect’s final major project, but also one that did not open doors until 1997, nearly 40 years after Wright’s death.
“It’s really kind of our highlight, our centerpiece,” Guard said. “You have that Frank Lloyd Wright design, with inviting lines and curves all around you, with gorgeous views overlooking Lake Monona. It’s a one-of-kind view.”
Aside from being a premier event space, the LEED-EB Gold-certified venue inspires visitors to explore it in more depth out of session with guided tours, a gift shop resplendent with Frank Lloyd Wright wares and, in the summer months, a rooftop cafe.
Another beloved venue for conventions, meetings and other events is the Overture Center for the Arts.
“Our big time music and theater venue,” Guard explained.
The Overture Center stages everything from Broadway productions to nationally touring musical artists and local dance companies. The center has a variety of event spaces available for booking and provides in-house catering.
“Having an event in an actual art center has a very specific energy about it for sure,” Guard said.
For smaller events, several unique meeting-friendly venues can be found on Madison’s famed “Museum Mile,” running from the Capitol Square to the UW-Madison campus.
Adjacent to and partnered with the Overture Center, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art brags a 51,500-square-foot building designed by Cesar Pelli. The museum has four spaces available for events, including the Lecture Hall and the Rooftop Sculpture Garden and Lounge.
On-site catering is available from Fresco, the museum’s dedicated restaurant.
The Madison Masonic Center can host small groups of up to 25 attendees in its classroom, 500 in the marble-terrazzo-detailed ballroom and 1,000 in the Masonic Auditorium.
Meanwhile, attendees looking for enlightening downtime activities can check out the Chazen Museum of Art, which offers a variety of guided tours that can be customized to the interests of each group.
Food is also an art in the city. Madison-based chef Tory Miller recently topped Bobby Flay on the Food Network’s Iron Chef Showdown. The James Beard Award-winning chef owns and operates the Deja Food Group, four well-loved restaurants in Madison, including L’Etoile, Sujeo, Graze and Estrellon, a must-try for any foodie wanting to explore his internationally celebrated flavors.
L’Etoile has multiple private and semi-private event spaces available for groups between 15 and 50 guests, while Graze provides both event space and catering for luncheons and meetings.
Aside from Madison’s variety of indoor arts venues, its cultural offerings extend outside for seasonal festivals.
“Basically, from mid-spring through mid-fall and peaking all summer long, we like to get out and do stuff here,” Guard said of the destination’s outdoor offerings. “Shake off some of that winter slow-down.”
So which of Madison’s festivals aren’t to be missed?
“I could easily give you a list of 50,” Guard laughed. “But I will try to narrow it down.”
First, concerts. Madison’s live music scene thrives throughout the year, but especially during the warmer months, music enthusiasts will find a satisfying range of accessible and no-cost listening opportunities.
Concerts On the Square, a series of six Wednesday night performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, is held at the King Street corner of Capitol Square in the summer.
As with many of the destination’s free performances, audience members are invited to bring their own blankets and coolers to this “Biggest Picnic of the Summer.”
In Garner Park in late July, locally renowned singers perform choice numbers from opera and musical theater under the stars at Opera in the Park. For more danceable modern fare, concert series such as Live on King Street and Jazz at Five will get attendees moving.
Looking for something a little more, well, meaty?
“You can’t come to Wisconsin and not dive into brats and beer,” Guard said.
Annually held over Memorial Day Weekend, Brat Fest is a four-day celebration of the beloved German sausage. The festival pairs all things bratwurst with music, carnival rides and cycling. In 2015 the festival established a Zero Waste Initiative and has to date reduced landfill-bound materials significantly every year since.
And then there’s the mustard.
The National Mustard Museum in nearby Middleton throws a big mustard party every National Mustard Day on Aug. 4, complete with music, brats, games and, of course, a veritable rainbow of free mustard samples. The 6,000-attendee strong event donates proceeds to local charities as well as the nonprofit museum.
Madison CVB Contact Information
Greater Madison Convention & Visitors Bureau