Arts + Literature Laboratory quietly starts up on Winnebago Street

The space provides a new venue for readings, art, and music.

Poet Angela Voras-Hills reads at Arts + Literature Laboratory’s Watershed Reading Series event on November 12.

Poet Angela Voras-Hills reads at Arts + Literature Laboratory’s Watershed Reading Series event on November 12.

The new Arts + Literature Laboratory, at 2021 Winnebago St. on Madison’s East Side, won’t have its grand opening until January, but has already been hosting readings and visual art, and has its first music event coming up soon too.

Jolynne Roorda, a Madison-based sculptor and graphic designer, actually first established Arts + Literature Laboratory in 2003, when she lived in New Haven, Connecticut. The non-profit venue was run by volunteers and hosted art, poetry readings, workshops, and music for about five years, but eventually closed a couple years after Roorda and her husband moved abroad for a while. Roorda moved to Madison about four and a half years ago, and last year she began looking for a new space to revive the concept, eventually finding the space on Winnebago, which previously hosted a print shop and clay studio.

Much of the programming in the space has yet to be determined—Roorda hopes more collaborators will come forward to help flesh that out—but the venue has made some progress already on the the art and literature parts. The venue partnered with the Watershed writers’ group to launch a new reading series on November 12. “Their mission was so similar to mine that we decided that we might as well just kind of merge,” Roorda says. The venue and Watershed collaborated earlier this week for a "write-in” event at A Place To Be on Willy Street. Arts + Literature Laboratory is currently hosting a show of illustrations from Madison author Rita Mae Reese’s Flannery O’Connor-inspired The Book Of Hulga.

Things will pick up a bit over the next couple of weeks, as the space opens up Captured, a photography show that documents young people locked up in the Dane County Juvenile Detention Center, with a focus on LGBTQ youth and young people of color. The exhibit is hosted by the Gay-Straight Alliance for Safe Schools and the photos are by Amber Sowards, who talked with us earlier this year. And on December 12, Arts + Literature Laboratory will host its first music event, with a duo performance from Madison drummer Tom Hamer and Madison electronic musician Gregory Taylor, and a set from Milwaukee experimental outfit Geodes.

Roorda is working on incorporating Arts + Literature Laboratory as a non-profit, and hopes to support it through a combination of memberships, donations, grants, workshop fees, and possibly fees for group art exhibitions. She wants most of the venue’s events to be free, but might have a cover for some. Roorda’s other plans include curating a library of small-press publications, like chapbooks from local poets (and possibly offering some publications for sale), and a digital file collection of work from local artists.

While it’s hard to find a good space for a venue in Madison—that is, a space that’s big enough, has a good location, and has some enough room from NIMBY neighbors that the music can be adequately loud—Arts + Literature Laboratory is in some good creative company. Its neighbors in that little stretch of Winnebago Street include well-respected recording studio DNA Music Labs, the Midwest Clay Project, the Sector67 hackerspace, glass-blowing operation Studio Paran, and the bustling multi-artist space Winnebago Studios.

Plus, Madison’s always hurting for all-ages arts and music venues (and/or venues that aren’t bars) and take their programming cues from the community. We’re still feeling the absence of the Project Lodge since that fizzled out in 2012, but Madison is starting to fill that void a little, with all-ages shows at spaces including Bright Red Studios, the new Threshold on Atwood Avenue, Good Style Shop, at the new Williamson Magnetic Recording Company, and at the monthly Evening At Maria's series. But all those are basically one-offs, and not necessarily substitutes for a dedicated, versatile all-ages space.

Roorda is planning a grand-opening event for Arts + Literature Laboratory in January. Anyone interested in helping with programming at the new space can contact Roorda through ALL’s Facebook page, and there’s also a mailing list you can sign up for at the venue’s website.