Street art speaks to people. It’s a character in a city. It livens up a public space or provokes discussions because of its innate subversive nature of dissent. In Madison street art is only merely rising. It’s a movement making its way to the city’s walls through aesthetically pleasing pieces with no political content, but with very social causes behind it. Because of that this is MAD STREET ART: a four-part story explaining how Madison’s street art responds to its politics.
Here is the story of Madison’s street art. Part IV of IV.
Madison seems as a unified city, but it’s divided into two socioeconomic sectors: the highly educated people and the lower income people. These are the two Madisons, which are a result of the social inequality and disparity that the city faces. These issues are indirectly addressed by its tender and forbidden street art controlled by the city government.
According to Lewis Friedland, a UW-Madison sociologist and journalism professor, the highly educated Madison revolves around high skilled employment and specific industries that requires citizens at least a bachelor’s degree.
“The highly educated Madison, which is the Madison that revolves around the University, state government, and the insurance and technology industry,” Friedland said. “They generally have at least a BA and Madison is one of the more highly educated cities as a whole in the United States.”
In contrast, the Madison with low-income communities struggles due to a lack of manufacturing employments that do not require higher education degrees.
“There is a smaller group of lower income people; predominantly African American and also Hispanic. Most of them are living in the South and West sides of Madison,” Friedland said. “The median of the poor community is very low even in terms of poverty. The educated tend to be more educated and it accentuates any kind of gaps or divisions in the city.”
Because of the two Madisons coexisting in one whole city, the disparity and inequality are very marked.
“Almost all the decent jobs in this community require education and there’s not a lot of manufacturing,” Friedland said. “The other side of that is that is that it’s employment based, setting aside education. Although they are highly correlated, but the employment base is very white colored, professional or technical.”
For Karin Wolf, Madison’s Arts Program Administrator in the city’s Planning Community and Economic Development department, that disparity and inequality is a civic issue she seeks to tackle through the arts.
“We’re using tax favored dollars and I think that the arts should address these civic issues. I want to show how the creative minds of the artists can address these specific issues,” Wolf said. “Right now, one of our big civic issues is the inequality in our community and the arts can address that.”
For Guatemalan artist Richie Morales street art in Madison is barely rising and he sees it as an opportunity to communicate another perspective in regards to the civic issues.
“It’s an access to another perspective that is necessary because if not we stay in a bubble. When that bubble bursts halfway and we’re exposed to the real world people get the platanazo (colloquial Latino expression for thump) and it breaks down,” Morales said.
Opening that access to another perspective brings a simultaneous sentiment of hope and disillusionment for Sharon Kilfoy, the mother of murals in the city as Wolf calls her.
“I think that in some ways I’d like to be really hopeful about the world, but it’s hard because of all the displaced people all over the world and what’s happening to us climate wise,” Kilfoy said. “I think that all that we can do is turn to you guys. To younger people and hope that you can make some of the changes that we weren’t able to make and just be smarter about everything.”
And that hope is the reason why political and social change is sought through the Mad Street Art: an art that is forbidden and tender seeking an instant of humanity in the two unequal Madisons in Wisconsin.