A City Pays it Forward

For Random Acts of Kindness Day, we are happy to share our official video for our City-Wide Pay it Forward coffee chain on Feb 4.

On this day, a Madison, Wisconsin we wanted to initiate not just a ripple of kindness, but a tidal wave of kindness in the community.

There were 10 participating coffee shops. Over 1,000 people bought coffee for a stranger in this awesome day (and only half the coffee shops were counting people!)

Big thanks to Grant Brooks at Momentum Medium for shooting it!

Shared words:

“ Thanks for reminding us that even these small acts can make both us and others feel good.”

“Just wanted to share that several friends not involved in the event have reported getting their coffee paid for by the person ahead of them over the weekend and into today, and I think it’s totally due to this still! It’s put the idea in people’s minds. Fun to see how far these things can spread”

“ What I loved about today was the anonymity. The generosity of the stranger ahead of me. Not knowing the one behind me, and his response. How often do we do kind things for strangers without any expectation of anything, even a thank you in return? Not enough.”

“ I think I’ll be smiling all day from these tiny acts of kindness or secret missions that people are doing all over Madison today. In drive thru coffee shops not only order your coffee but buy the one for the person behind you. I just bought a coffee for the lady waiting behind me and while we were waiting for our orders to come out, she hopped out of her car and expressed how thankful she was and that no ones ever done that for her before. Spread happiness.”

❤ Thank you Madison Community Discourse for creating this amazingly simple and moving event.”

“ So far, so good! Just came from MOKA on E Wash. My coffee drink was paid for (thank you to the gentleman in front of me!) and of course I paid forward.”

“ I am not in Madison, but I just did a pay it forward parking payment. Not sure the reaction, but I felt good about it. Here’s to paying it forward!!

“Paid for the car behind me in line at Starbucks Gammon Place. It felt good!#mcdhappiness #payitforward

Julia | Community Stories

“So I think that one of the happiest moments in my life it’s actually two moments.  One was when the doctors told me that my husband Kristopher wouldn’t be paralyzed after his surgery, and then the other moment was eight months later when I saw him walk the first time.

She pauses, “when I think about this it’s tragic, but also a great time.

He surprised me, and went to my library in grad school.  I had a lot of friends there, who were used to seeing him in a wheelchair, and many of them didn’t know our back story. He just got up out of his wheelchair in the middle of the library and started walking towards me, and I just started balling.”

“Oh my god, how did this happen?” I ask.

“He was paragliding in Bolivia and ran into a building with his two feet forward.   It was a half finished building.  In Bolivia there are a lot of half finished buildings, and he was trying to avoid a barb that would have stabbed him, and so instead he angled himself to hit the building instead.

He was so calm when he landed.  He said he was fine, because he could feel his legs and also he didn’t want me to freak out.  People put him on to a board, and  even when he went into the hospital he was so calm.  He said he could feel everything, and he kept the people around us calm too.  He had x-rays, and they said parts were shattered, so it was amazing that he wasn’t paralyzed right then.

Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and it was pretty scary.  He couldn’t travel because his feet were shattered.  So, he had to have emergency spinal cord surgery there. They didn’t have the supplies, so they had to ship the supplies to the hospital, even though they should have waited.   Later, they had to do ankle surgery too.

Being in Bolivia was a very sad time, but the people there came out to help us.  Strangers from everywhere came out to help us.  We found this strength together, and he wasn’t paralyzed, so we were just happy.

Later, when he was recovering at his Aunt’s house in Wisconsin, we had a lot of time to ourselves.  That was where we fell in love, and while he was getting better we just had a lot of time.  Every year we had worked so hard,  so it was amazing to have this time together.

Before all this happened, we had plans for me to go to grad school. Before Obamacare, Massachusetts was the only state that you could go to with a pre-existing condition, so we moved there.  With the care he had there, he was able to learn how to walk again.

I’m a pretty serious student, and I was to grad school at Harvard, but I would play hooky sometimes.  We were just so grateful that he was okay, that we would go out, eat lobster, and go to the beach.  We just felt so lucky, like we had a second lease on life.”

Madison Community Discourse is a community arts nonprofit in Madison, WI.  We are studying happiness throughout the community to connect our city through experience. We do this through interviews, events, and creative placemaking explorations.

To connect people through experience, we are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email hello@madisoncommunitydiscourse.com

Nina | Community Stories

“It’s really hard for me to recall happy moments, because I’ve had a lot of them.  I have had a lot of terrible experiences, but I recognize that I’m very blessed.  So I guess the most ongoing happy place is just when I am out with my husband and my dogs, out taking a walk.  Really if I had to give it a location, it would be on the shores of Lake Superior.

It’s out special place, it’s really beautiful.”

January 2017 News and Updates

Christopher Peterson has a three-word summary of positive psychology: “Other people matter.”  As a community arts nonprofit, we are committed to people.  It is our mission to connect people, strength people, activate people through art and discourse.

It has been an incredible start to study on happiness, and it’s an honor to work with you to fulfill this mission.  In the four short months since we have started this study on happiness, we have hosted eight workshops, interviewed 75 people, and cultivated a safe and welcoming environment for over 900 participants.

This has been a great start, and we are excited to announce the next phase of the study: the Secret Missions.  This is where our workshops build art, evolve into creative placemaking events, and see tidal waves of change in our city.  We will be announcing a lecture series, pop-up interactive art pieces, and our exhibition dates.

Other people matter to us.  YOU matter to us, and we couldn’t do this without you.  As always, we are thankful for your participation, your vulnerability, and your efforts to bring this city together through art and discourse.

We wish you a warm, safe, and happy New Year.

Mallory Shotwell

January 2017 Events

Happiness and Routines:  Make a New Year

Saturday, January 21
Goodman Community Center 

Participants will create a set of attainable goals for their lives, set or reset their path, and connect with others.

This workshop will not be a drop in experience. Instead, we are creating a space where people can explore their own experiences, and those around them. In this immersive experience, we are encouraging people to dig in, wear their hearts on their sleeves, and begin to create the life that you are meant for.

Limited seating, so please sign up soon.


Happy Hour: Happiness and Routines 

Wednesday, January 25
Crescendo Cafe

Happy Hour is a philosophy group that discusses different aspects of happiness in our lives and in the community.

We will be sharing ideas on the topic of happiness and ritual or routine. Particularly looking at the routines that we have with ourselves and other people. Which of these are healthy? Do these lead you to a life of happiness or contentment? Are you leading a life that you want, if not, how does one redirect themselves to a life that they want?


February 2017 Events

Random Acts of Kindness:
Interactive Art Workshop

Saturday, February 18
Hawthorne Library

In this drop-in event, artists from across Wisconsin will be joining us for an interactive art workshop. For this unique event, each artist will be setting up a station for participants to create art or pieces for random acts of kindness.

Featured Artists:

Jennifer Bastian: offering tea and conversation
Danika Brubaker: sharing ‘For the One Who Finds Me’ providing flower bouquets for strangers
Anja ‘La Prosette’ Notanja Sieger: Current Artist in Residence at Redline Milwaukee, offering personalized typewriter poetry for participants (See her featured on CBS Sunday Morning!) 
Katrina Lord: From @MKELoveLetter, Katrina will offer a station to write love letters to strangers
Mallory Shotwell: providing a positive spin on the parking tickets

This event is designed to create a wave of random acts of kindness in the Madison community. Each of these artists work independently, serving strangers in their actions, and hoping that these actions stir up other random acts of kindness. When we bring all of these people together, we create a tidal wave of kindness in the community.

Come to participate, be a part of the waves, and watch what happens.


Happy Hour: Happiness and Kindness

Wednesday, February 22
Field Table

Happy Hour is a philosophy group that discusses different aspects of happiness in our lives and in the community.

February will be our analysis on kindness and happiness. What is the relationship between kindness and happiness? How is kindness interpreted if you don’t understand it? Are there universal forms of kindness? Can you have happiness without kindness? Or kindness without happiness?


Secret Missions 

Starting in February, we will start our secret missions.  Secret, pop-up creative placemaking endeavors that will encourage participation, art, discourse, and community development on a large scale.

We will only be sharing these on our facebook group, so please join us below to see what we’ll be doing.

Participate in the Secret Missions Here 

Katrina | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse

Study on happiness

“I think that one of the happiest moments of my life was when I decided or discovered that I could shape myself to be the best version of myself.  It was a decision making process, an actively working process, and a constantly changing process, but that in the end it would totally shape my whole life.  I could look back and say “I make my decisions with future Katrina in mind.  Is what I’m doing today helping me become the best me that I think I can be.

Sometimes you miss opportunities, and sometimes you think that you’re doing it, but it doesn’t end up being the way you think it’s going to end up, but I think that overall I have found that it’s really rewarding.  You find this center stage of your own life, maybe for the first time ever.  And I think it’s really important to find inspiration along that path.  I rely a lot on Rilke’s writing to help me find my better self.  Sometimes it can be uncomfortable because you feel like you might leave people behind you, but those people have to do their own center stage life work.  I think it’s really benefited my relationships, especially my romantic relationship. We met when I was 21 and he was 24, so we were pretty young, but we’ve been together for six years now, and part of that success has been that we’re both on that path of becoming our best people.  So even if that means we’re going in separate ways, we’re going together.

It’s benefited my relationships with my parents as well, because I can say that they’re on their own path, and even if it’s not bettering themselves all the time, they are in a stage of their life where they are figuring things out.  They are working on their own path.

I set tangible goals about how I want to be better, and working towards them.  My first big one was becoming less argumentative.  I found that I used to get in big heated arguments, and it was about winning, and that’s it.  It wasn’t about about finding a way of truth or anything like that.  I’m smart and I want to outsmart you with my words, and it caused a lot of negative feelings in a lot of relationships, and I don’t do that anymore.  And it’s taken a lot of time, and I’ve made mistakes, but now I can feel when I am doing it, and say to myself  “you know, winning doesn’t matter, let’s now do that,” she laughs.

Poetry has helped me find this.  Rumi, Rilke, Robert Bly.  Robert Bly has this book called ‘News of the Universe: Poems of Dual Consciousness’ and it’s about reflecting on life experiences from out of body ways.  How does the tree feel when its leaves turn brown and fall off, and imagining that life experience.  I know the tree doesn’t have experience for itself, but gifting it to the tree through your imagination, and I think that led me to the fact that I could do more for me than I was doing.  And it’s made everything so much better.  Because if I’m in a rut, I think about what the future me would want of my life, and I do that.  So it’s been really fun.  It’s a lot of work sometimes, but it’s worth it.”


Madison Community Discourse is interviewing 200 people on happiness in their year-long study on happiness in Madison, Wisconsin.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email hello@madisoncommunitydiscourse.com

If you’d like to participate anonymously, please click here.

Sabrina | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse


“There’s just so much to talk about, but I think literally the happiest moment of my life is my son. I had my son before my sixteenth birthday, and I wasn’t afraid it was just more so thinking about what I’m gonna do now, how am I gonna take care of this kid, and I had to make a very conscious decision about wanting a different life for him that what I had, and so the happiest moment just had to be the focus I had when I was raising him.  So it wasn’t just being a good parent, I wanted to have a child that didn’t have this chaotic lifestyle, I had to be more focused in my life, and my parenting, and making sure my life was together.  I think lots of parents feel this way, but it really is watching him grow, and putting things into him has allowed me to grow.  When I’m out in public and someone knows my son or has met my son, and then they are describing their relationship with my son whether it’s a five minute interaction or however long, and when they come back and tell me ‘you know your son is so awesome, so respectful, so great, he was this, that, or the other,’ THAT feels really really good for me because I’m happy all over again that I have this young man.

He’s almost 22 now, so he’s not this little boy anymore, but I would have not been so involved in community.  I wouldn’t know what it means to serve other people and what it means to work in a way that’s consistent and conscious in my relationship building, so I can’t be all bad attitude with folks because that leaves an impact on them.  The way I raise him and the way I interact with him, and then that’s how he goes out and that’s how he interacts with other people.  So through my son I am always having these happy moments because I’ve learned how to be with other people and how to work with other people, how to put other people’s needs first.  I get what I need out of it too, but I could have not come to this place without him.

I wasn’t expecting to have him, but now that I have him what am I going to do about it? At the time I was always in trouble, I was running away from home, I was fighting, so to have this child that I’m not responsible for and I have to figure out what to do and what I’m gonna do about myself.

And it’s my son that is continuously giving back to others, so it’s through him, through our continued relationship that I have learned how to be a better person, a better giver, a better supporter, a better server.

People teach us how to be better people overall, people are constantly teaching us, so he has been my happiest moment because what I have given to him has played out in other relationships. Being able to be his parent.  Truly I think I would have been a totally different person had I not been his parent.  I was that little jerk, but now watching him and getting to witness what you have done with him.  You get to see it right upfront.  He’s taught me to be more accepting, he has role modeled for me, so I can learn from him too.  So it’s not all in me, it’s watching him.  He’s always my happiest moment, because it’s always giving back.”


Madison Community Discourse is creating a platform for discourse.  We are studying happiness to connect our city through experience. We are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email madisoncommunitydiscourse [at] gmail.com.

To see the full portrait, please click here.

To participate anonymously, please click here.


Amber | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse

arts wisconsin

“There are two things to come to mind.  One is a specific moment and one is more place and time.  So the one moment, and oh, I might cry, from the time I was a little kid I always loved animals, and I had a poster of a really wrinkly puppy.  It was a really positive thing in my life and I knew I always wanted one of those dogs.  It was something happy in my life.

I learned that it was a shar pei, and so I did a lot of research on what Chinese shar peis were, and I couldn’t find any young dogs.  I had read a lot about the dogs, and sometimes when they are old from rescue, they can have a lot of issues, so long story short, I flew out to Boston two years ago and I got a shar pei.  I got a puppy and he’s my baby.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but it was one of the happiest moments of my life.  When I looked at him and he’s my little velvet wrinkle ball, I sobbed. My husband was there to capture pictures, so some people that know me think that I am the craziest dog owner ever, but I don’t know in my life if I’ll ever have children, so this is mine!

The other one I say isn’t a moment in time, but it’s my life, which is awesome.  It’s awesome to look at it and say that I am moving more and more into the happiest time in my life.  It feels awesome.  I feel like my whole life that everyone has struggles, and I was constantly having to overcome, overcome, overcome, challenges, challenges, challenges, cover things up, overcome, and now I am finally creating the life that I want. So I finally feel like I’m not overcoming and I am emerging, and it’s really good to see that transformation in myself.

I feel like crying.  Aww..”  And she smiles.


Madison Community Discourse is creating a platform for discourse.  We are studying happiness to connect our city through experience. We are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email madisoncommunitydiscourse [at] gmail.com.

To see the full portrait, please visit our home page.

To see our events, please click here.

Madison Community Discourse | News and Updates | Community art nonprofit


MCD connects community through art and experience. Each year we study a theme and connect community through the hands on workshops, creative placemaking events, interviews, and exhibition that we offer.

Art and discourse are at the center of what we do.  It is how we connect.  It is how we reflect and honor the reflections of those around us.

One of the components of our community study on happiness is the interviews.  We are interviewing 200 people across Madison to build a ‘portrait’ of what happiness is in our town.  The response has been incredible.  45 interviews have been completed in a span of five weeks!  Click here to see the stories and ‘portrait’ as it is developing.

In October, we also hosted two workshops.  A hands on art workshop and our ‘Happy Hour’ discussion group.  We had a great attendance and support at both events.  It is amazing to watch the mission working as strangers connect, share, and are open with one another.

If you were unable to make it to the workshops, we have the questions that we asked and explored at them here.


Community art madison wi

Happiness Interviews

Saturday, November 12 9am-12pm
Cafe Zoma
2326 Atwood 

There has been such an incredible response to the interviews that we are creating a new event each month to include more people.

The following times will be offered at Cafe Zoma to interview people on happiness. It will take about 10 minutes, but we are scheduling them for 20 minutes just in case they go over.

Please reply to this email if you would like to take one of the times below.

9:00am: taken
9:20am: available
9:40am: available
10:00am: available
10:20am: available
10:40am: taken
11:00am: available
11:20am: available
11:40am: taken

community art madison wi

Madison Community Discourse and Polka Press present  :::

Printmaking demos
Gratitude writing workshop
Thank you cards to print and purchase

Sunday, November 20 1-4pm at Polka Press
2132 Fordem Avenue 

Join us for an afternoon of thank you card making and writing. We will provide prompts for expressing gratitude, inks and papers for printing cards, plus envelopes and postage so that we can mail your cards at the end of the day. There will also be a variety of thank you cards printed by Polka Press members available for purchase.

$5 / three cards to print or purchase (all supplies included)

Please bring one non-perishable food item to donate to the Goodman Community Center Food Pantry

discourse madison wi

Happy Hour is a philosophy group that discusses different aspects of happiness in our lives and in the community.  We are inviting people, regardless of education or philosophy background, to engage in a monthly community discussion on varying aspects and thoughts of happiness.
This is a group where people can connect with new people, share their ideas and thoughts, and these larger social issues on the topic of happiness. We believe that through this social discussion group, we can explore new perspectives and understand our community, and our world, better.

This month we talk about gratitude and its relation to happiness.

Wednesday, November 16 6-8pm
Harmony Bar and Grill
2201 Atwood 

RSVP here on facebook 


We are honored to participate in the BRAVA Women’s Expo.  

November 19 and 20 10am-4pm
Alliant Energy Center 

BRAVA’s signature event is back for its 17th year and we’re having even more sophisticated fun than ever! Find your passion, get inspired, shop for great finds, try a new activity, connect with dynamic women – and savor and sample your way through the weekend!

We will be offering a number of hands on activities that call participants to reflect on their own happiness and those around them.

It has only been one month, but we are honored with the incredible response we have already seen. We are seeing that it is helping people already, connecting people, and strengthening community through a stronger sense of belonging.

People are connecting through experience, people are connecting through art.  People are connecting in Madison.

We are thankful for the partners we have worked with so far and are really excited to share the news of the new partners and sponsors that we have for the year soon.

So many good things are coming.  Things will get bigger and better with each month, and this is just the start.

If you haven’t please like us on Facebook, see us on Instagram, or share this newsletter.

Hive Social Club  One-One Thousand  Cafe Zoma  Lazy Janes   Crescendo Espresso Bar and Music Cafe  Harmony Bar and Grill  Old Sugar Distillery   Barriques   Matrix Coworking   100State   Pinney Library  BRAVA Women’s Expo

We are always grateful for our fiscal sponsorship from Arts Wisconsin.


Caleb | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse


“I am really really really happy when I play sharks and minnows.  And my bike.  I really like my bike.”


Madison Community Discourse is creating a platform for discourse.  We are studying happiness to connect our city through experience. We are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email madisoncommunitydiscourse [at] gmail.com.

To see the full portrait, please visit our home page.

To see our events, please click here.

Justin | Community Stories on Happiness | Madison Community Discourse

Justin Bitner Art

“My favorite happy moment is after my Grandma passed away, which is strange to say.  She was the coolest Grandma there was, she was so cool, and she taught me to play cards.  She taught me how to play cribbage, play piano, read music, she taught me how to cook, everything.  So that’s what I remember of her, just playing cribbage all the time.

After she passed away, everyone was divvying up her stuff, and I got a couple things – a buffet of hers, this really cool vase, but the thing I wanted was the cribbage board.  It turned out that they were able to find it, and I was able to get it.  And I still use it to this day, and it still has the little Battleship pegs.  It has the real pegs, but when we played we had to use the Battleship pegs, so we didn’t lose the real pegs.

I realized that I needed to find a deck of cards for the game, so I went to a thrift shop to get some, and I ran across this one deck.

My Grandma and I played with this one deck with cardinals on it, and I looked at this one that looked like ours.  I looked through it and knew that if it had this certain joker that it was it. I looked through, found the joker, and knew it was the exact same deck of cards that my Grandma and I used to play with.  So it was nice, one of those weird things where everything came together.

That was one of the happiest memories of my life.”


Madison Community Discourse is a community arts nonprofit in Madison, WI.  We are studying happiness throughout the community to connect our city through experience. We do this through interviews, events, and creative placemaking explorations.

To connect people through experience, we are interviewing 200 people all over Madison to create a ‘portrait’ of happiness.  If you are interested in being interviewed, please email madisoncommunitydiscourse [at] gmail.com.

To see the full portrait, please visit our home page.

To see our events, please click here.