A Decade from Now

Looking back on ten years in Madison—and to the future

As I settle into writing this, my inaugural editor’s column, it is the tenth anniversary of my first official day at Madison Magazine. I say “official” because I attended one editorial meeting before I was on the payroll. Former editor Brian Howell was host of a roundtable with leaders of the local arts organizations that would become residents at Overture Center, then under construction. He asked me to join him in the discussion about how the facility might affect their futures.

It didn’t take long to realize that Overture would dominate the city arts conversation for the foreseeable future. And my editor’s invitation to the meeting was clearly a signal that I would be smart to get to know the players—and the politics—as the story of the single, largest philanthropic gift of its kind anywhere in the world unfolded right before our wide Midwestern eyes. I quickly went to school on the local arts scene, getting to know everyone from Overture planning guru George Austin to the late Joel Gersmann, the brilliant and eccentric artistic director of the experimental Broom Street Theater, who refused to let Overture steal all the limelight.

Many of those in attendance that day have moved on. The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra’s Bob Sorge took his talents to the Madison Community Foundation. Nancy Lynch of the Madison Ballet now shares the foodie part of her life as a recipe columnist in this very magazine. Nancy Thurow, CTM founder and artistic director, and Ann Stanke, managing director of the Madison Opera, are both retired. Tony Forman, formerly of the Madison Repertory Theatre, is still in the arts but the Rep shuttered more than a year ago. The strangest departure was ex-Overture director Bob D’Angelo, who spent ten months in prison for tax evasion and illegal use of his city office.

My husband and I still laugh about how excruciating it was to be hired by Brian, the Barbara Walters of city-regional magazines. By the end of two weeks I’d been grilled on everything I’d learned since kindergarten and vetted by everybody on staff but Archie, the part-time collections guy. In the July 2000 issue, my name and title—associate editor—appeared on the masthead for the first time. That felt good. Really good. The magazine cover, like this one, was themed the Best of Madison.

Local celebrities graced its cover, and much like the paths of those arts officials, many are no longer with us in one way or another. Badger legend Ron Dayne has retired from pro football. Vicki McKenna and her radio DJ sidekick Marc Anthony have long since disbanded, and McKenna now spins politics instead of music. George Hesselberg doesn’t pen columns for the State Journal anymore, and Barry Alvarez doesn’t coach football. TV news anchor Mike McKinney died of cancer, and comedian Dave Gray passed away after a ten-year battle with epilepsy.

In early 2003 Brian and I teamed up to co-author a primer on Overture and its inhabitants. After another round of stakeholder discussions we found that resident groups were still ecstatic about their new home and its impact on Madison arts. But a growing awareness that operating costs would rise dramatically had deepened anxiety about whether the smaller arts nonprofits could survive. As we were finishing the article, Brian—my boss, mentor and friend—was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died nine months later at only fifty-three years old.

I wish I’d written down all the things I learned from him in the years we worked together. Too few pearls of wisdom remain. Through his lens as husband and father, he showed me that under no circumstances does work come before family. As a superb editor, he taught me that conversations—like that arts roundtable ten years ago—lead to ideas.

A decade past seems like forever ago one minute and like yesterday the next. Ten years before I came to Madison Magazine I was a freshman at the University of Virginia; ten years from now my daughter will be a college freshman. A lot can happen in a decade, and as your editor I look forward to helping you unpack Madison’s story as we settle into the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Brennan Nardi is editor of Madison Magazine. Comments and letters can be sent to 7025 Raymond Rd., Madison, WI 53719, or bnardi@madisonmagazine.com. Letters we publish may be edited for space and clarity.

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