New public art piece installed on Highland Ave. beneath Campus Dr.

The Madison Arts Commission is proud to announce the installation of Madison’s latest major public art project, Shift by Julia Schilling. The piece will serve as an interactive gateway between the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, UW Hospital and Clinics, and the Regent Neighborhood.

Shift, comprised of two 70-foot light sculptures made from perforated weathered steel, now spans each side of the Highland Avenue underpass beneath Campus Drive, creating a shifting light mural. Punched out patterns created from circle packing algorithms will be backlit with LED lighting.

Shiva Bidar, who served the district from 2009 to April 20, 2021, supported the project throughout her tenure on the Common Council. Upon learning the installation would finally begin during her last days of service, she stated, “I am beyond excited to see Shift become a reality at this visible location used by pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike. Public art is such an important way to activate space and engage the community.”

The project has been in the works since June 30, 2010 when the Regent Neighborhood Association (RNA) held a public design workshop that resulted in a vision for the corridor, which prioritized creating public art for the two underpasses that connect the neighborhood with the UW-Madison campus and UW Hospital. The University Avenue Corridor Plan, approved in May of 2014 by the Common Council, specifically recommends installing public art in this underpass to improve safety, walkability, and aesthetics.

In the spring of 2014, Associate Professor Sam Dennis of UW-Madison's Landscape Architecture Department assigned students a service-learning project wherein they researched and created arts-based solutions to address neighborhood concerns about the safety, lighting, and walkability of the underpasses. Student proposals were presented to Regent Neighborhood Association board members and residents in March of 2014, and they selected Julia Schilling to create her proposed design because it stood out as having an aesthetically pleasing design solution that also met all the criteria established by the neighborhood.

For many years, staff from City of Madison Engineering and Planning Divisions worked closely with the artist and the neighborhood to bring the project to fruition, After a long meandering path, the piece is finally being installed and illuminated in 2021.

Through Schilling’s design, the dual-image accordion walls on opposing sides of the underpass mirror the energy and movement of Highland Avenue. As stated on her website, her choice of generative imagery “walks the line between science and art, choice and chance. Whether someone moves through the space on foot, bike, or motor vehicle, every individual will have a unique experience.”

In her artist statement about the project, she wrote:

My concept was inspired by a goal of making the space more engaging and safe for people, and of contributing to a more walkable corridor for neighborhood residents.

The patterns created for the walls are symbolic of science, nature and connectivity. I wanted to create the opposite of a dark, undesirable tunnel by transforming the underpass into a bright, intricate ‘sky-like’ place that would remind you more of being outside in nature where everything looks different based on where you’re standing.

The artist, who designed the project when she was still an undergraduate in landscape design, is professionally employed at the landscape architecture firm Saiki Design and has several completed landscape architecture projects under her belt. When asked how she felt about the fact that Shift was finally installed she said, "It's so exciting to watch a collaborative effort like this come to life nearly seven years after the first sketch. We hope this project improves the daily experience for Highland Avenue commuters through increased walkability, safety and visual interest. Thanks go to the City of Madison, UW-Madison Environmental Design Lab, and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin for making the project possible, along with the Regent Neighborhood, whose involvement ensured the community's voice helped shape the outcome."

Speaking about the public art piece being installed in her district, Regina Vidaver, the new district 5 representative to Madison's Common Council stated, “I’m just thrilled that we are able to support art in our City in this way and looking forward to more partnerships like this in the future.”

“The inspiration and beauty of Julia Schilling’s design was the clear and perpetual force that moved this project forward. We were immediately drawn to her vision of a mural connecting the campus with our neighborhood and with her geometric design that artfully celebrates a University and a community known for scientific inquiry and innovation,” said Jon Miskowski, President of the RNA Board. He added, “We are also mindful of the importance of the location. The UW Hospital draws families for critical care and we are pleased that this project will bring art and inspiration both to our neighborhood and to our welcome visitors.”

A dedication celebration for Shift, artist Julia Schilling, and the many volunteers and contributors who championed the project over the years is being postponed until later in the summer when it is safer to gather.

The purpose of the Regent Neighborhood Association (RNA) is to articulate common interests in the neighborhood, work for neighborhood improvement, and maintain strong communications with and among residents.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin, Inc. (1000 Friends) acted as the neighborhood's non-profit fiscal receiver for the purposes of raising private funds to help offset the costs of creation and installation of public art for the Highland underpass.

The Madison Arts Commission works to encourage artistic activities and initiates cultural programs that integrate, support, and advance arts and culture as an essential part of life in Madison.

The City of Madison Engineering Division provides a multi faceted combination of Public Works services to the citizens and customers of Madison in a fair and consistent manner that allows for and encourages public input.

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