Since 1958, Madison has celebrated its vibrant arts scene with a massive Downtown extravaganza. A kaleidoscope of paintings, jewelry, stained glass, sculptures, and more dots the streets surrounding the Wisconsin State Capitol building while shoppers discover new treasures to display in their homes.
This is the Art Fair on the Square, a spirited, and beloved, Madison tradition that’s not to be missed and can easily turn into an entire weekend trip.
Art Fair on The Square: Know Before You Go
Presented by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA), the event can boast up to 500 artists from around the country purveying wall art, photographs, clothing, and more, all to the delight of more than 200,000 visitors. There’s something for every taste here, from those who adore abstract art to ones who enjoy works that celebrate all that Wisconsin is known for through state-shaped artwork and wood pieces.
Admission is free, and in addition to perusing all that gorgeous art, you can take in live entertainment and outdoor dining as well. Think: dance companies and folk artists performing while you sample eats from a local food truck.
As for parking, there’s plenty of it around the Capitol Square, but just be sure to wear comfy shoes and bring a rolling shopping cart if you plan to stock up on several pieces.
Where to Stay & Eat
There are many hotel options within walking distance of the Capitol Square, making getting to and from the art fair a piece of cake. There’s DoubleTree by Hilton Madison Downtown, the official hotel of Art Fair on the Square that’s one block from the Kohl Center and has modern, well-appointed rooms as well as an on-site restaurant and fitness center. The Madison Concourse Hotel, one block off the Square, has no shortage of luxe amenities, like whirlpool suites and gourmet offerings.
For glorious Lake Mendota views and an entire menu of oh-so pampering spa services, look no further than The Edgewater. And for a boutique feel, head down East Washington Avenue to Hotel Indigo, with an artistic vibe complete with murals and colorful rooms with industrial touches—which makes sense considering the building was once home to the Mautz Paint company.
Hungry after all that shopping? On the Capitol Square, you’ll find several award-winning restaurants, like the supper-club-esque The Old Fashioned Tavern & Restaurant, elevated pizzeria Lucille, and outdoor dining at its best at Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. Other top-notch eateries that reside right alongside the fair include Eno Vino Downtown Madison, Graze, Harvest, Canteen, Tavernakaya, and DLUX.
Other Attractions Arts & Culture Lovers Should Visit
The Art Fair on the Square is just one single expression of the creativity that permeates Madison. There are so many other artistic and cultural experiences you can add to your weekend itinerary while visiting the fair.
First of all, you can always walk mere steps from the fair to the Wisconsin State Capitol building to view the incredible architecture and murals housed inside.
Then there’s the MMoCA, located seconds away from the Square on State Street that serves as a gem of Madison’s art scene—the 51,500 square feet of glass-enclosed spaces display several stunning exhibits, and don’t forget to visit the impressive Rooftop Sculpture Garden as well.
To catch a Broadway show and visit additional art galleries, be sure to visit The Overture Center for the Arts, also on State Street. For another artful adventure, go to the Chazen Museum of Art, located on the UW-Madison campus and brimming with 23,000 works that range from the ancient to the current.
Need another art-filled shopping fix? Visit Hatch Art House found on Williamson Street (locally known as Willy Street), which spotlights a myriad of local artists.