Small Fixes 1: Downtown poster cases

April 28, 2014 @ 12:35 pm
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small fixes

​This public amenity could be more inclusive—and anyone promoting an event can help.

Remember that conversation about how the city government can support arts and music in Madison? I don't even know if it's really still going on, or if it was just a way for journalists and politicians to occupy themselves, and for various people to make it about their own specific gripes rather than about broader goals. To be honest, I sort of gave up trying to follow it after hearing such ideas as "let us make a music video about Madison!" and "let's pay a consultant lots of money to make a list of venues in Madison!"

What I do know is that such a conversation will be much more productive if we first find some immediate solutions, things that can be implemented with a minimum of slow city-government process and largely with resources we already have. (As a person who tends to over-think things, I've gradually learned how refreshing it can be to just up and do something.) So I'm starting an occasional series called Small Fixes, in which we look at simple yet meaningful things public officials can do to support music and the arts. These actions may not answer all the bigger questions (i.e. how to make Madison a more viable place to live and work as an artist), but they can at least create some goodwill and keep people engaged as we go about a more complex, long-term debate about these issues. I'll also be taking submissions for this, so if you're a Madisonian with an idea that fits and would like to write a guest edition of Small Fixes, reach me at scottgwrites at gmail dot com.

First up: The City of Madison Parks Division should make better use of the poster cases on the Square and State Street, by changing them out more frequently and encouraging more people to submit posters.

I mean those nice and tidy enclosed ones, not the bloated-nests-of-paper-and-packing-tape ones. Yes, you can try your hand at the latter, but those things suck, unless you have the resources to print out tons of flyers and send someone out on repeat flyering rounds. Also, there's sort of an unspoken Little Rascals treehouse rule that Frank Productions/True Endeavors gets the top row and Majestic Live gets the second-to-top row, which is sort of adorable and also a classic, if small, case of private companies hogging a public resource, but anyway.

But as for the former, anyone can drop off up to 12 event posters with the friendly staff at the Madison Parks Office in the City-County Building, and city workers will eventually rotate 'em into the enclosed cases. Which is really nice. Sure, in a lot of cases flyering for an event doesn't make that much of a difference, but then again if you're putting on a show it's kind of part of your due diligence to do so, out of respect for the people playing your event if nothing else. And if you're going to bother with flyers, you might as well try to have them displayed in the heaviest foot-traffic areas in town, in a nice case where it won't fall victim to inconsiderate fellow event promoters, the elements, or "SUMMER JOBS FOR THE ENVIRONMENT" flyers.

The catch, however, is that the flyers aren't swapped out all that often. If you drop your flyers off, if can take up to two weeks for it to actually show up in the cases, and often flyers for an event remain up for a while after the event. As a document on the city's website says, "Please be aware that this is NOT a high priority for staff." If you place a follow-up call about the flyers you dropped off, you'll basically hear the same thing: The flyers are changed out every so often, and yours will go up when it goes up. OK, fair enough.

But that's not quite the whole story. On many of these poster cases, often an entire side is taken up with a large poster for an Overture Center event or Overture's entire season. I doubt the folks at Overture are going to the trouble and expense of making large posters, of just the right dimensions, only to drop them off at the parks office and hope they'll be put up on some willy-nilly basis. So, in this case, an organization that already has pretty robust promotion is, it would seem, enjoying a special claim to a public resource. And perhaps there are legitimate reasons for that, but it would be a great gesture for the city to make this more egalitarian, to be more responsive to smaller local venues and one-off promoters or just bands and artists trying to help spread the word about their shows. I also can't imagine it would be that expensive or politically difficult to direct city staff to update the cases, say, once a week. Or to place some limits on how much space bigger arts organizations and promoters can take up in there.

I admit I have a stake in this, as Arts Extract [Editor's note: This article was published before Tone Madison had its current name] occasionally puts on events and I often take advantage of this service myself. The staff at the parks office are always very friendly about it, and even if there's a bit of a delay, it's really gratifying to see flyers for our events in the cases. It's certainly not something I feel entitled to, but if the resource is already there, then I say we should make the most of it.

So let me propose a very modest bit of system-crashing: If you're flyering for a show or other cultural event, drop a few flyers off a month or so in advance at the parks office and place a follow-up call a week or two later (and be polite, of course). Let's push the issue a bit and make those nice poster cases a bit more representative of what Madison offers.

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last updated: July 21, 2016 @ 1:16 pm

Scott Gordon

Scott Gordon

Scott is the editor and co-founder of Tone Madison. He has covered music and lots of other things for outlets including The A.V. Club, Wisconsin Public Radio, and WORT-FM.

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