Valerie | Community Stories

“The happiest moment of my life was realizing that life can go on after loss.  So, at a very young age I lost my brother to suicide.  And he was just weeks away from his 21st birthday and I was 24.  Just after finding that out, I turned around and saw the person that is now my husband, standing, waiting there for me out of nowhere.  He was there, and he was there to support me.

Normally that would be a very traumatic time for someone, but I was able to take the love and support that I could and ran with it.  From there, we started a relationship, and now a family.  You never know where life will take you, so you have to embrace all of life’s adventures.”

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

April | Community Stories

“Two happy moments came to mind right away, one was when I was alone, and one was in a group.

I had just gotten a divorce and quit my career job, and was traveling on a road trip through the Pacific Northwest.  The first happy moment that comes to mind was in the midst of a conference, with a group of like-minded people.  The conference was called the World Domination Summit, and I was sitting there realizing that these people were the tribe that I didn’t know existed.  It was one of the first moments that I had where I thought that there are people like me.  And there is good in the world.  There are people who want to make good happen in the world, and I am a part of a movement.

The happy moment was realizing that are other people who want to change the world through happiness, compassion, and love. There are a lot of people that want to do it in the same way.  And it felt inclusive.”

She pauses.

“I’m gonna give you two, if that’s okay.” April adds.

“Yes, of course!”

“I think on my own, the happiest moments have all been very similar, but one that I can think of was just sitting in nature, and feeling the same exact feeling that I had at the conference, but instead it was coming from people, it was coming from the universe.  I had felt so alone, and at that moment I didn’t feel alone.  I just knew that I am here on this Earth to do things, and there was a fullness in that moment.  I was able to soak in the beauty of that moment in time.

So both of these moments were very much the same, and I’ve had similar instances since then, but that summer in 2013, was the summer that I realized that okay, I’m not crazy for quitting my job, and having my marriage end in divorce, and moving on with my life, I can do this because there is a purpose for all of this.  So happiness to me is feeling comfort with my humanity and who I am.  My purpose may feel insignificant at times, but it’s very important and significant.”

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

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

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

Angela | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse

art madison wi

“One of the happiest moments of my life would be when I was on my way to England, it had been a year since I had been in England, and I came back, and I thought I would be coming to an empty airport and that I’d have to sleep in the airport because my hostel wasn’t going to be open, and I would have a very lonely experience coming in.  And I show up at the airport and one of my friends who I had met the year before was there with open arms, and a dozen roses, and a big smile on her face and was so happy to see me.  Her and her boyfriend took me home, and they let me sleep on her couch.  It was one of the greatest feelings ever to have someone who cares for you and is waiting for you, and you didn’t expect that, especially in a foreign country.

I also think about another airport experience when I was leaving the year before, it was an early morning flight so I had to take a bus to the airport the night before and again it meant sleeping in an airport, and all of my coworkers got on a bus with me, and stayed with me all night until I had to go.  Again, it was people who I had just befriended in a different country showing this support and love, and it was an amazing feeling.”


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]

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

To see our events, please click here.

Stephanie | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse

community art madison wi

“It’s hard to pick a happiest moment because there are so many different ways to be happy.

A few are coming to mind, but the one that is strong is the day that my wife and I got together. I remember the feeling the next day when I waking up, a little groggy, and then you remember.  And my eyes shot open, with this ridiculous smile on my face, I had this giddy feeling like ‘oh my gosh, I am so happy and so excited that I met this person who I really am intrigued by and I think is really awesome and cute.  Something is happening, and that feeling of possibility and that feeling of excitement, that electric giddy happiness, was really special. It just felt significant in a way I hadn’t experienced before.  So it was just really fun.  I was really useless at work and just mooned out the window all day, it was just so awesome.  It was a really happy moment.

I also think of doing Eat for Equity, and those were interesting days.  It was a lot of work, planning the menu, working with the them, and working with the beneficiaries to pick the theme, but there was this magic moment when it would all come together.  Where all the volunteers were there, the beneficiary was there, the people were showing up, the food was being cooked, and we had this incredible community of people coming together to make this.

There was this drumbeat of happiness throughout the day.  Even when it was stressful and we were running and doing five thousand things, even under all that there was this steady drumbeat of happiness that was mostly due to us creating things with people.  For me that gives me great joy.  Building a thing together, whatever that is, and the fact that is was through these organizations that were doing this amazing work to make our community a happier, healthier, and a better place to be made it a thousand times better.



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]

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

To see our events, please click here.

Emily | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse


“I think that when I got out of a relationship down in Texas, I was living down there and moved back to Wisconsin. Before I even moved back, I started realizing this sense of freedom and being able to be free and be who I am and not caged.  Not only caged by another person and their expectations of me, but also the expectations of society.  Since I’ve been able to break out of this cage, these walls that people had enclosed on me, and those that I’ve closed around me in fear, it’s when I’ve been able to feel the most happy that I’ve ever been.  I think that sometimes we get a sense of fear that comes to us and it encloses us, and those are the moments of discomfort and unhappiness. When we’re able to break free from those is when we’re able to feel the most free and alive.

So for me in the past few years, I’ve done a lot of exploration. I choose to travel and hike and explore the city and explore relationships with people and my own skills too, and I think through doing all that I’ve been able to find this freedom to be exactly who I am, and that’s happiness to me.

It’s just being and living the way that I’m supposed to live.  And being able to have respect for other people with that too, not pressing my ideas of the way to live on how to live on other people.  Starting the company was a huge thing, there are a lot of times when it feels enclosing, isolating, trapped by money, but I’m seeking the freedom of my life, and I’ve learned to be very happy with very little, and I’ve been able to find out what the value of money and what that means in terms of happiness.  Because I haven’t needed a lot to feel extreme happiness, you think about how other people live in other countries and the small amount that they have…  So when I think about that, I feel the most alive and happiest, I am free to be me.”



We are creating a platform for discourse.  Events, creative placemaking, and interviews 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]

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

Madison Community Discourse | News and Updates | Community art nonprofit

We are so excited to officially start the year studying happiness in the city of Madison.  We are taking this on as a real study, ensuring that the people in our town truly are engaging with each other, connecting with each other, and building a stronger sense of belonging.

Our goal is to interview two hundred people over the course of the year.  In the two weeks that we have officially been working on the project, we have already interviewed 26 people and have started to release the interviews.  We will be releasing two a week over the course of the year.  All ages, races, genders, backgrounds will be our focus, reflecting what Madison really is and who the people in it are like.

Click on the pictures below to see our portraits of happiness that we have shared this month.

wp-1475244400511.jpg    barbara-0047


sarah-artz-0025         sara-meredith-0041


We are asking each and every person the same question and the results have been incredible.  People are so wise, so fascinating.  They each have their own perspectives and stories to share.  This is a vulnerable moment:  sharing your world with the public, and we are so honored when people participate.  

We are even more amazed and frankly, happy, when people are engaging in other people’s responses.  It gives a glimpse into someone else’s world, allows us to step into their shoes for a moment, and if we are lucky, we can see through their eyes.  The project, the goal, is already starting to work.  We are already starting to connect people through our website and through various social media.

There are two scheduled events for the coming month and we hope that you can attend.  

Our ‘making’ workshop will be an interactive art experience called Frame of Mind.  Here we examine positive thinking and its affects on our emotional state.  We present related research that we have collected on positive thinking, play a game that engages this topic, and create art that will help retrain your mind to think positively.


This free event will be held at the Pinney Library on October 15, from 10am-12pm.  It is designed for teens and adults, but children are welcome to interact as well.  There is the children’s play area in the library close by as well.  

The second event is our discussion group called “Happy Hour.”  Here we collectively discuss different components of happiness and what it means to us individually and as a community.  In this first Happy Hour, we will share our ideas about happiness and its definition. What does it mean and how does it shape our lives? Are we SUPPOSED to be happy all the time?

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.

The first Happy Hour will be hosted at Old Sugar Distillery on October 26, from 6-8pm.  

All of the events and workshops that we are creating is building towards our exhibition that will be held in October 2017.  This will be unlike any other exhibition that we have hosted.  There are many details to work out, but it is all very exciting.  And hard to keep it secret.  Details to come as the months roll on.

We at MCD are committed to forming community partnerships of all kinds.  We have many worked out already, but if you have any suggestions or would like to be a part of the project, please email us at madisoncommunitydiscourse [at]

Please see more on our Frame of Mind workshop here.  

Please see more on our Happy Hour workshop here.  

We are on the forefront of an amazing year, the start of something that will change our city.    With this ripple of happiness, we will share in something great together, something that will make us happier, more connected.

Thank you so much for your support of the project.  We could not do it without you.

Sarah | Community Stories | Madison Community Discourse


When you first said ‘your happiest moment’, I started thinking of specific moments in time when you think ‘well, this was a really good feeling, or this was a really good event, but when I think of what happiness has started to mean to me, it’s more of a phase.  And so, I think that I’ve felt the most happiest in my own skin when I quit my job and my career to pursue building my business.  And I think it was the combination of doing something that was so scary to me and so shocking to people who were doing the more traditional thing in my life, and that really started to feel comfortable and real to me.  And so, I don’t think that I knew what happiness was most of my life.  I think I was always in survival mode and i think I was always trying to find the perfect answer of what life should be like.  And especially after my momdied, it was more so.  It was like, okay, this is what I should be doing, this is what my life is supposed to be like.  I’ve got to finish school, get a house, get married, get a job, be successful, blah blah blah.

But it always felt like zombie-mode.  And so I think when I started to own my life and start to make some decisions, I think that it took me living as an adult for ten years that way, and all of sudden I realized that it doesn’t have to be this way.  It really doesn’t.  ANd my mom had been gone for a long time, and it was the first time I could realize and have the inkling that I could make my own choices for myself, it wasn’t what everybody else was telling me. It wasn’t what she was telling me.  It wasn’t what my family was telling me. It was like I could actually say no to all that.

So I think when I made that decision to do all that, I came to be in one of the happiest times of my life.  It’s mine and I’m doing something even if other people don’t think it’s right.  I’m starting to understand who I am and own that. And it’s not always happy, sometimes its very stressful, but overall that’s what happiness is to me.  Truly experiencing all those feelings and all of those emotions that happen with existing versus just doing because that’s what you’re supposed to do.

I feel like people feel think that happiness is supposed to be this really good feeling that happens you’re going to feel joyful all the time, and that’s not what it means to me.  I think it means being true to yourself.


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]

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