BOOKLESS will take place Saturday, January 28. Poster by Art & Sons.

The books have been removed from Madison’s Central Library, and the shelves taken down.  The computers have moved to a temporary location, and the book drop is sealed shut.  As Madison Public Library prepares for the renovation of the old Central building into a beautiful new library space, the old building sits empty.

What to do with this huge, empty space?  For Trent Miller, Gallery Coordinator for the library, the answer was clear: fill it up with art and music, and give the community one last chance to say goodbye.  He pitched his idea for the fundraiser, and BOOKLESS was born.

Tomorrow, the Madison community will finally get to experience BOOKLESS, a one-day celebration of the library with approximately 100 artists, 5 bands, several DJs, and various hands-on activities.  Organized by Miller and Courtney Davis, Foundation Assistant for the Madison Public Library Foundation, the event will feature a daytime event for children and families including a public painting wall and other art projects, and a nighttime event called “Party in the Stacks” featuring among other things, a dance party in the library’s basement.

“It is a way to look back and celebrate the old building,” Miller says, “but it’s also a way to look to the future of what we can expect with a new, exciting, dynamic space.  Libraries are changing and we want this event to help spotlight the fact that we’re excited for the future of our libraries.”

A basement library oracle will give fortunes through the library's pneumatic tubes system at BOOKLESS. Photo: Trent Miller.

Miller put out a call to artists, and received a huge response.  “When you say big, open, empty industrial space to most artists, their eyes start to light up,” he says. “Some artists are bringing in older work, but a lot of artists are making new work specifically for the space.”  Miller is now working with about 100 artists who are contributing a range of artwork and installations, from large-scale paintings to photography and video installations.

Artists Angela Richardson and Paul Andrews are working with a medium that many library lovers will recognize right away: old card catalog cards.  “We’re turning the Friends’ Book Store into something of a post-apocalyptic butterfly conservatory,” Richardson says.  “Up from the ruins of abandoned technology comes a glorious transformation.”

Richardson heard about BOOKLESS on the same day she heard that Memorial Library on the UW-Madison campus was removing its card catalog, and the timing was perfect.  While preparing the installation with help from friends, the artists also found some wire book supports and microfiche to use.  Of their unique materials, Richardson says, “These materials are both beautiful and hold a lot of meaning in relation to library history.”

Photographer Nicole O’Connor will also be showing work with ties to the library. “I was lucky to have been able to photograph the library twice: once when books were on the shelves and again after their removal,” she says.  “The images I’ll be showing at BOOKLESS are taken from a series called Fluorescence which shows the lighting used throughout the library.”

O’Connor says that the she approached this opportunity with a definite awareness of the library building and its previous and future uses, and that this thinking had an effect on the photographs she chose to show.  “I’m really interested to see what other artists have taken away from their experience of the library and how they tailor their style of presentation to fit the environment.”

In addition to artists, other local bands and vendors will lend their hands to create an even larger community collaboration.  Bands Yid Vicious and Off the Porch will perform during the day, and the Project Lodge will curate a three-band set of live music in the evening while DJs create a party in the lower level of the building.  Local establishments Dobra Tea, The Great Dane, Merchant and Underground Food Collective will provide food and drinks for the event.  Madison arts organizations Polka Press, Artworking, and Sector67 are also participating, along with design firms Art & Sons and Cricket Design Works.

Setting up for BOOKLESS. Photo: Trent Miller

Davis says that the Madison Public Foundation has held all kind of fundraising events in the past, but nothing quite like this. After all, how often is there a large empty building to work with? She’s excited to show patrons old and new that the library is more than books:  “Of course, we love our books and always will, but we play all kinds of roles—for example, as a venue for artistic expression,” she explains.

Davis also hopes that the event will get people excited about the new library project and the new directions the library is moving.  “The changes we’re making are really incredible and are going to make the Central Library a more pivotal center of the Madison community than it already is.”

After all the coordination and set-up, Miller can’t wait to see the event come together on Saturday and be enjoyed by the community.  Judging from enthusiasm on Facebook and other online outlets, the community is just as excited.  After all, for many, this event is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Miller sums it up perfectly: “A big empty space, artists, musicians, drinks, librarians…what more could you want?”


For the evening event, tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door.  The daytime event is free.  Proceeds from the event will go to the Foundation’s campaign for the new Central library, called Learning for a Lifetime: The Community Campaign for a New Library.  For more details about tickets, participating artists and vendors, and more, visit Madison Public Library Foundation’s BOOKLESS page

Look for a blog post next week with photos from the event! 

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