Not only has the city of Madison long been an inclusive city for LGBTQ+ residents and visitors alike, but it also has a rich history of advocating for and championing gay liberation that dates to before the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
This history—combined with its colorful, affirming present—provides the backdrop for many of the city’s LGBTQ+-focused public art displays, theater productions, galleries and art collectives. As you’re planning your trip to Madison, make sure to add these must-see art offerings to your list.
Intersectional Pride Rainbow Crossings Project, State Street
Over the years, 20+ cities across the United States have implemented rainbow crosswalks to celebrate their LGBTQ+ communities—and Madison was added to that list in fall 2022. This crossing mural, made possible by donations from the city’s residents, is located at the beginning of Madison’s State Street where it meets the Capitol Square and serves as an affirming symbol of acceptance for residents and visitors alike.
After you’re done checking out the crosswalk—selfies encouraged!—be sure to take a walk with your group down the famous pedestrian zone. This stretch of State Street, which boasts some of the best shopping and dining in the city, runs the full length between the State Capitol and the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Library Mall.
“You Are Beautiful” Mural, East Washington Avenue
If you happen to be driving into Madison via East Washington Avenue, you’ll see a mural with a sweet sentiment: “You Are Beautiful.” The mural’s swooping blue lettering, painted in 2017 by artists Alaura Seidl and Wendi Kent, aims to both empower queer and transgender youth and spread a message of self-acceptance.
The mural’s location is between two of Madison’s best-loved neighborhoods: Marquette and Tenney-Lapham. Marquette is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, with the architecture to match—if you’re an architecture buff, you’ll love seeing the many Greek Revival, Italianate and Arts & Crafts homes and buildings.
Meanwhile, nature buffs will appreciate Tenney-Lapham’s 37-acre lakeside park, complete with incredible views of Madison’s Lake Mendota. It’s a perfect landing place for a picnic with friends, or to relax after a bike ride around the neighborhood with your family.
Dick Wagner Portrait at the City-County Building
As you’re enjoying everything Madison has to offer, make time for another piece of art—this one paying homage to an important person within the city and state’s LGBTQ+ history. In the City-County Building on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd hangs a portrait of LGBTQ+ activist and public servant Dick Wagner. Wagner was the first openly gay county board chair in the state, serving on the Dane County Board for 14 years—and is captured in full color by local artist Rae Senarighi, also known as professionally as Transpainter.
Bonus: the City-County Building is only blocks away from the Monona Terrace, a convention center with an outdoor rooftop cafe. Here, you can take in not only the city scape of Madison, but also the Terrace’s Art on the Rooftop exhibit, a free exhibition of public sculpture that rotates annually.
Arts + Literature Laboratory, Capitol East District
Located in the city’s downtown Capitol East District, the Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL) is committed to supporting a multitude of artistic voices, including those among the LGBTQ+ community. ALL's 200+ events per year—many of them free of charge—include everything from literary readings and experimental live music performances to full-scale visual exhibitions and artist discussions.
The space is also home to several festivals and events: head here with friends in October for the annual Midwest Video Poetry Fest—a celebration of a new poetry genre that blends artistic visuals with poetic text—or the Madison Jazz Festival in June.
StageQ: Wisconsin's Queer Theater, Downtown
A constant presence in the Madison’s community theater scene for over two decades, StageQ routinely produces sell-out shows that challenge perspectives and champion diversity. Providing a platform for LGBTQ+ people of all ages to see their stories told on stage, the theater company performs their lavish musicals, intimate dramas, and thoughtful comedies at the Bartell Community Theatre, located just a block away from the State Capitol Building.
Visit during Pride Month and get the chance to take in the annual CapitalQ Theatre Festival—an entire weekend of brand-new play readings, one-act plays, and short pieces by up-and-coming LGBTQ+ playwrights from around the country.
Keep the fun going and discover LGBTQ+ business to also explore and support while traveling in Wisconsin.