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Alumni Park opening date, first featured grads announced

May 10, 2017
Graphic: Overhead architect's drawing of alumni park site

Alumni Park, which will occupy a 1.3 acre site between the Red Gym (left) and Memorial Union (right) along the Lake Mendota shore, will officially open Oct. 6. Wisconsin Alumni Association

Just as the soon-to-be newest class of University of Wisconsin–Madison alumni readies to graduate and partake of traditions like sitting on Abe’s lap to have photos snapped, the Wisconsin Alumni Association announces the opening date for Alumni Park.

This new green space between Memorial Union and the Red Gym, hugging the shore of Lake Mendota, will officially open to campus and the community Friday, Oct. 6. The date was chosen so Alumni Park could participate in the city’s fall Gallery Night (presented by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art) and showcase the work of artists and makers — including local artisans — who contributed to the design of the park.

The park, with more than 50 museum-like exhibits woven through gardens, plus a visitor center, is believed to be the first Alumni Park of its kind in the country. Details on the opening event and milestones leading up to it will be added to throughout the summer months. An extensive media-rich version of the site offering a deeper dive into park content also launches Oct. 6.

First featured alumni revealed

Along with announcing the opening date, the alumni association used the occasion to provide a first reveal of some of the 120-plus alumni who will be featured in artful sculptures and displays dotting the 1.3-acre park. Among them are:

Gaylord Nelson LLB’42, Wisconsin governor, U.S. senator and founder of Earth Day
Dale Chihuly MS’67, world-renowned studio glass artist whose work graces the Kohl Center lobby
William Harley 1907, mechanical engineer and cofounder of Harley-Davidson motorcycles
Gabriela Cezar PhD’02, stem cell research visionary
Vel Phillips LLB’51, a pioneering African-American elected official and social justice advocate
Gabriel Stulman ’03, a celebrated chef and restaurateur
Kathryn Clarenbach ’41, MA’42, PhD’46, a leader in the feminist movement
Jake Wood ’05, Marine Corps veteran and founder of the Team Rubicon disaster relief volunteer force

“This is more than just a beautiful park, although it is that. It’s a place for alumni, students, campus and community to be inspired by alumni who’ve used their UW–Madison education to change the world, and a place to tap into that innovative spirit in our own lives,” says Paula Bonner, Wisconsin Alumni Association president and chief alumni officer.

Graphic: Architectural rendering of Alumni Park

The park, with more than 50 museum-like exhibits woven through gardens, plus a visitor center, is believed to be the first alumni park of its kind in the country. Wisconsin Alumni Association

Breathing fresh life into the Wisconsin Idea

Bonner says the experience WAA has so carefully crafted for park visitors is a much-needed reminder of one of the deepest traditions of the university, the Wisconsin Idea.

“Now more than at any time in the university’s history, it’s important to shed light on the Wisconsin Idea, the principle dating to the early 1900s that proclaims the benefits of education should influence people’s lives beyond the boundaries of the classroom,” says Bonner. “Here you’ll find hundreds of powerful proof points of that principle.”

The park’s design also plays into the affinity students and alumni have for more lighthearted traditions that are Madison’s and Madison’s alone — from rubbing Abe’s foot for good luck to sledding on cafeteria trays down Bascom Hill — through exhibits that showcase UW icons and traditions, and are sure to spark new traditions once the park opens. The association is eager to establish the park as another must-visit destination in Madison.

Bonner noted that the idea of a green space in this very spot dates back 110 years, when a park-like promenade was included in the development of the 1908 Campus Master Plan. “Tenacity brought this idea back, and the generosity of private donors made it a reality.”

Season of events

The grand opening on Oct. 6 will also serve as the official kickoff for an “opening season” of events throughout the fall, all of which will be open to the public. Calendar updates may be found throughout the summer at