On Saturday, June 1st, 2019 the City of Madison dedicated that wonderful new work of public art at the intersection of State Street, Library Mall and East Campus Mall. This is a heavily used crossroads, and because of the logistics of installation and signage, many of us have been walking by these new structures during the several weeks between installation and formal dedication, when they were not yet titled.

So we have been looking at the blue granite rock and wondering “What is it? Is it supposed to look like it’s floating?” And the tall lacy steel – “What is it it pointing us toward? Do you think it looks like a waterfall?” And the yellow spot. “Is it an eye? The sun? A mind on fire?” And from those who are less experienced with the abstract, “Um, I’m not sure I get it. What’s it called, anyway?”

It’s called “BOTH/AND- TOLERANCE/INNOVATION,” and at the dedication I had the chance to meet the artists David Dahlquist and Matt Niebuhr. The space is designed to echo the confluences and crossings that have happened in this spot for over a century. People have gone back and forth — to the the library, the State Capitol, adjacent places of worship, the Memorial Union, the University Club, the Historical Society, and more recently, the Chazen Museum. Just imagine what the flow of people would look like from the sky!


To help you to “get it” and find your own meaning in the space, the plaque provides the followings guidance:

“Between knowing and believing, Both/And is an acceptance of seemingly disparate thoughts coming together — it is the presence of action and reaction to ways of understanding.”

One of the artists tells me that the rock and fluid steel beams mimic what happens when a stream is disrupted by stone, there is a bubbling up, and turbulence, but a new balance is restored again downstream. The other explained that the yellow color and lighting is indeed intended to recall the sun to us, with all the other meanings welcome, of course. In fact, the work was sited with the fall (September 23) and spring (March 20) equinoxes in mind — so that the sun can shine through the sculpture and create a special beam of light at those times.

We are encouraged to contemplate the rock, the steel, and perhaps especially the space in between them from all these perspectives. I did this on the morning after the sculpture was installed, classes had ended and it was quiet. Walking from Memorial Union, the steel and rock looked like they had always been there. The steel beams lined up and came alive — they could be UW graduates in caps and gowns, a choir singing outside the church, or a group of concerned members of our community, gathering in formation to march down State Street to the Capitol.


As I got closer the imagined people fell away and the more natural images came to the fore. The Steel elements seemed like a waterfall now, and the rock seemed to be in a pool of water.

Moving closer, after taking a few pictures, the massive structure becomes human again. I see a hand —  steel fingers and a blue granite opposable thumb reach toward the sky. In prayer? Offering friendship? Ready to make something new and good and true? Over the years I hope it will mean all of these things….

Perhaps, rather than different parts of one hand, the steel and stone can represent two very different people coming together. One is tall shiny and reaching, with flashes of color. The other is grounded and beautifully dark with glowing shades of red and blue. They are huddled toward each other and it seems like they are looking down. Perhaps they are two children on a playground marveling at a frog. It doesn’t have to be complicated…. Or perhaps they are two wise and different people trying together to understand the puzzles of history, to accept the gift of confluences, to create the future.


I hope this reflection helps readers to begin to answer the question “What is it?”

The other question is “What will it become?”

Of course that depends on us — the people of this city, this university and around the world – it depends on how we choose to pass through this space in the decades to come. Based on past crossings and confluences I am guessing that we will meet up at “the Rock” for a thousand different reasons. We will sit on the benches to read or rest. We will discuss the weather, current events, the stories of our lives. We will profess love to each other, and we will watch for beams of light, as has been done in different ways on this Ho Chunk land where Madison sits, for centuries. We’ll take selfies here, and inevitably BOTH/AND will become a site of interest on the college tour. Some new thing that we do not know will happen here. And BOTH/AND will become that new thing too.

What is it? What will it become?

You tell me.

….Or better yet, let’s meet at the Rock and and figure it out together with Both/And -Tolerance and Innovation. We’ll share belief and knowledge, history, and so many crossings. Beauty. Perspective. And we’ll make something new.


Lori DiPrete Brown

June 2, 2019