Reach a Better State

Conversations can spark ideas that generate real change.

2 days of lively discussions and engaging conversations with leaders — more than 60 in all — from the realms of politics, the economy, education, journalism and culture.


Thought-provoking sessions exploring some of the most pressing issues facing Wisconsin.


Our speakers represent an amazing combination of knowledge and expertise.


Two days of engaging conversation on the UW-Madison campus in the Discovery Building, Gordon Center and Union South.


Marquee Cinema, Union South

As Wisconsin's signature export, cheese is what many think of when they think "Wisconsin." A panel discusses what changes in the industry mean for the state's economy and culture.

Anna Landmark, Landmark Creamery
Jeanne Carpenter, Wisconsin Cheese Originals
Patrick Geoghegan, Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board
Mark Stephenson, Center for Dairy Profitability

Moderator: Lindsay Christians, Cap Times

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

A conversation about politics with the U.S. senator from Minnesota about politics and the rural Midwest.

Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Sen, D-Minnesota

Moderator: Jessie Opoien, Cap Times

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

Five successful women from different fields talk about their triumphs and challenges.

Mary Burke, Building Brave
Jan Eddy, BELLE Capital USA
Nancy Hanks, Madison School District
Kathi Seifert, Katapult
Alisa Toninato, FeLion Studios

Moderator: Katelyn Ferral, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

The civil rights and educational reform leader talks about the future of learning.

Howard Fuller, Institute for the Transformation of Learning

Moderator: Amber Walker, Cap Times

11:00 am


Marquee Cinema, Union South

Wisconsin restaurants were early pioneers in the farm-to-table movement, but it's more than dining. A panel discusses what's next not only on linen cloths, but everywhere else we eat.

Justin Carlisle, Ardent
Tory Miller, Deja Food Restaurant Group
Ellen Ritter, UW Health
Paul Short, Madison College

Moderator: Lindsay Christians, Cap Times

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

The iconic editor of the Washington Post (and formerly the Boston Globe) talks about journalism in the age of Donald Trump.

Marty Baron, Washington Post

Moderator: David Maraniss, Washington Post

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

A panel of top minds with diverse points of view discuses what Wisconsin needs to do to thrive economically.

Kurt Bauer, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce
Brian Birk, Sun Mountain Capital
Rebecca Blank, UW-Madison
Kevin Conroy, Exact Sciences
Jack Daniels III, Madison College

Moderator: Jeff Mayers, WisPolitics

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

A panel discussion about ways to approach one of the state's most pressing problems.

Janet Bewley, Wisconsin Senate
Nadine Machkovech, Rise Together
Caroline Miller, Wisconsin Voices for Recovery
John Nygren, Wisconsin Assembly

Moderator: Jessie Opoien, Cap Times

Mesozoic Garden View, Discovery Building

Following the panel discussion, a chance for attendees to discuss the problem in small groups. Led by the Wisconsin Humanities Council.

Moderator: Wisconsin Humanities Council

Marquee Cinema, Union South

A panel discusses not only how hip-hop has changed the state's (and the world's) musical landscape, but how its sensibility can shape art, architecture and everything else.

Kellen Abston (Klassik)
Michael Ford, Madison College
Rob Franklin (Rob Dz)

Moderator: Amber Walker, Cap Times

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

A conversation about politics with Wisconsin's longest-serving governor.

Tommy Thompson, former Wis. governor

Moderator: Jason Joyce, Cap Times

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

A conversation about beer, business and small town economies with the founder of the company that brews Spotted Cow.

Deb Carey, New Glarus Brewing Co.

Moderator: Amber Noggle, WKOW

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

A panel discussion about reducing the community trauma and expense of incarceration while maintaining public safety.

Michael Jahr, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
Cecelia Klingele, Univeristy of Wisconsin Law School
Everett Mitchell, Dane County Circuit Court
Lena Taylor, Wisconsin Senate

Moderator: Greg Jeschke, WKOW

Marquee Cinema, Union South

The Cap Times editor emeritus and associate editor discuss their forthcoming book about the company's centennial and the passing of a progressive icon.

John Nichols, Cap Times
Norm Stockwell, The Progressive
Dave Zweifel, Cap Times

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

A conversation about politics with Wisconsin's Democratic U.S. senator.

Tammy Baldwin, U.S. Senate

Moderator: David Maraniss, Washington Post

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

A panel discussion about what it will take to make sure all of Wisconsin’s communities can prosper.

Laura Dresser, COWS
Sabrina Madison, Heymiss Progress
Christine Neumann-Ortiz, Voces de la Frontera
Greg St. Fort, 100state
May yer Thao, Hmong Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce

Moderator: Polo Rocha, WisPolitics

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

A panel discussion about the challenges to discussing race in public spaces and strategies for overcoming those obstacles.

Alex Gee, Nehemiah Center for Urban Leadership Development
Paul Fanlund, Cap Times
Annette Miller, EQT by Design
Ananda Mirilli, educational equity expert

Moderator: Sue Robinson, UW-Madison

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

A conversation about politics with Wisconsin's Repblican U.S. senator.

Ron Johnson, U.S. Senate

Moderator: Jeff Mayers, WisPolitics

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

The state's leading pollster and the author of an insightful book about the closure of GM's Janesville plant discuss what can and should be done in those parts of the state that haven't bounced back.

Charles Franklin, Marquette Law School Poll
Amy Goldstein, Washington Post

Moderator: Katie Dean, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

A discussion about the history and future of the Madison's area's first — and now often overlooked — residents.

Dan Brown, Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

Moderator: Jason Joyce, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

Reception with cash bar. Performance beginning at approximately 6:30 p.m.

Ho-Chunk Nation Singers and Dancers

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

Even in his own party, Donald Trump is sometimes a divisive figure. A panel discussion among Wisconsin conservatives about the approach to take to his presidency.

Rick Esenberg, Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty
Charlie Sykes, political analyst

Moderator: Greg Neumann, WKOW

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

Questions about how to pay for roads have been at the heart of the state budget battle. A panel discusses that debate and how it fits in with other transportation needs.

Dave Cieslewicz, Wisconsin Bike Fed
Jim Steineke, Wisconsin Assembly
Eric Sundquist, State Smart Transportation Initiative
Craig Thompson, Wisconsin Transportation Development Association

Moderator: Abigail Becker, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

The Trump administration's crackdown on immigration has put pressure on the many who work on state dairy farms. A panel discusison about what is happening and what should happen.

Bradford Barham, UW-Madison
Bob Kulp, Wisconsin Assembly
Tim O'Harrow, O'Harrow's Family Farm
JoCasta Zamarippa, Wisconsin Assembly

Moderator: Alexandra Hall, WPR/WCIJ

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

The editor of Sports Illustrated talks about the Badgers and the future of live sports in Wisconsin with the University of Wisconsin's athletic director.

Barry Alvarez, UW-Madison

Moderator: Chris Stone, Sports Illustrated

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

A panel discusses what Wisconsin's political landscape will look like four gubernatorial elections down the road.

Barry Burden, UW-Madison
Chelsea Duffy, Wisconsin Right to Life
Steven Olikara, Millennial Action Project
Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now
Myranda Tanck, Office of the Senate Majority Leader

Moderator: Katelyn Ferral, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author compares our own era to the days of Joe McCarthy, which will be the subject of a forthcoming book.

David Maraniss, Washington Post

Moderator: Lisa Speckhard Pasque, Cap Times

Concerto and Sonata Rooms, Gordon Center

2016 wasn't kind to Democats and progressive issues in Wisconsin. Leading voices discuss what the next steps should be.

Maurice Cheeks, City of Madison
Gwen Moore, U.S. House of Representatives
Mark Pocan, U.S. House of Representatives
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Katrina Shankland, Wisconsin Assembly

Moderator: John Nichols, Cap Times

Symphony Room, Gordon Center

Emerging technologies have created many new jobs in greater Madison and Milwaukee, but what aboutt the rest of the state? A panel discusison about obstacles and opportunities.

Kathleen Gallagher, Milwaukee Institute
Zach Halmstad, JAMF Software
Adam Neylon, Wisconsin Assembly
Joy Tang, Markable

Moderator: Erik Lorenzsonn, Cap Times

DeLuca Forum, Discovery Building

The pioneering researcher talks about how Wisconsin is and isn't serving its students.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, UW-Madison School of Education

Moderator: Amber Walker, Cap Times

Featured Speakers

The full schedule of events and speakers is coming soon, but here’s a sample of the notable people who will be at the festival.

  • Kellen 'Klassik' Abston

    Hip-hop artist

  • Barry Alvarez

    UW Athletic Department

  • Tammy Baldwin

    US Senate

  • Bradford Barham


  • Martin Baron

    Washington Post

  • Kurt Bauer

    Manufacturers & Commerce

  • Abigail Becker

    Cap Times

  • Janet Bewley

    Wisconsin Senate

  • Brian Birk

    Sun Mountain Capital

  • Rebecca Blank


  • Dan Brown

    Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison

  • Barry Burden


  • Mary Burke

    Building Brave

  • Justin Carlisle


  • Deb Carey

    New Glarus Brewing Co

  • Jeanne Carpenter

    Wisconsin Cheese Originals

  • Maurice Cheeks

    City of Madison

  • Lindsay Christians

    Cap Times

  • Dave Cieslewicz

    Wisconsin Bike Fed

  • Kevin Conroy

    Exact Sciences

  • Jack Daniels III

    Madison College

  • Katie Dean

    Cap Times

  • Laura Dresser


  • Chelsea Duffy

    Wisconsin Right to Life

  • Jan Eddy

    Belle Capital

  • Rick Esenberg

    Institute for Law & Liberty

  • Paul Fanlund

    Cap Times

  • Katelyn Ferral

    Cap Times

  • Michael Ford

    Madison College

  • Charles Franklin

    Marquette University

  • Howard Fuller

    Marquette University

  • Kathleen Gallagher

    Milwaukee Institute

  • Alex Gee

    Nehemiah Center

  • Patrick Geoghegan

    Wis Milk Marketing Board

  • Amy Goldstein

    Washington Post

  • Alexandra Hall

    Wis Public Radio

  • Zach Halmstead

    JAMF Software

  • Nancy Hanks

    Madison School District

  • Michael Jahr

    Wis Policy Research Institute

  • Greg Jeschke


  • Ron Johnson

    U.S. Senate

  • Jason Joyce

    Cap Times

  • Cecelia Klingele


  • Amy Klobuchar

    US Senate

  • Bob Kulp

    State Representative

  • Gloria Ladson-Billings


  • Anna Landmark

    Landmark Creamery

  • Erik Lorenzsonn

    Cap Times

  • Nadine Machkovech

    Rise Together

  • Sabrina Madison

    Heymiss Progress

  • David Maraniss

    Washington Post

  • Jeff Mayers

  • Anette Miller

    EQT By Design

  • Caroline Miller

    Wis Voices for Recovery

  • Tory Miller


  • Ananda Mirilli

    Dept of Public Instruction

  • Everett Mitchell

    Dane Co Circuit Court

  • Gwen Moore

    US Representative

  • Greg Neumann


  • Christine Neumann-Ortiz

    Voces de la Frontera

  • Adam Neylon

    State Representative

  • John Nichols

    Cap Times

  • Amber Noggle


  • John Nygren

    Wisconsin Assembly

  • Tim O'Harrow

    O'Harrow's Family Farm

  • Steven Olikara

    Millenial Action Project

  • Jessie Opoien

    Cap Times

  • Lisa Speckhard Pasque

    Cap Times

  • Mark Pocan

    US House of Representatives

  • Ellen Ritter

    UW Health

  • Sue Robinson


  • Polo Rocha

  • Scot Ross

    One Wisconsin Now

  • Matt Rothschild

    Wis Democracy Campaign

  • Kathi Seifert


  • Katarina Shankland

    State Representative

  • Paul Short

    Madison College

  • Greg St. Fort


  • Jim Steineke

    State Representative

  • Mark Stephenson

    Center for Dairy Profitability

  • Norm Stockwell

    The Progressive

  • Chris Stone

    Sports Illustrated

  • Eric Sundquist

    State Smart Transp Initiative

  • Charlie Sykes

    Political Analyst

  • Myranda Tanck

    Office of Sen Majority Leader

  • Lena Taylor

    Wisconsin Senate

  • Joy Tang


  • May Yer Thao

    Hmong Chamber of Commerce

  • Craig Thompson

    Transportation Dev Assoc

  • Tommy Thompson

    Former Wisconsin Governor

  • Alisa Toninato

    Felion Studios

  • Amber C. Walker

    Cap Times

  • Noble Wray

    Former Madison Police Chief

  • JoCasta Zamarripa

    Wisconsin Assembly

  • Dave Zweifel

    Cap Times


Staged across the Discovery Building, Union South and Gordon Center on the UW-Madison campus.

University of Wisconsin-Madison

University of Wisconsin-Madison

Discovery Building

330 N Orchard St, Madison, WI 53715

Union South

1308 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53715

Gordon Center

770 W Dayton St, Madison, WI 53706

Map it

Getting to the Festival


Bike parking is plentiful at the three festival sites, and there are two Madison B-cycle sites (see map above). In addition, Madison B-cycle is offering a free month of membership in connection to the festival. Use promotional code IDEAFEST17 after downloading the Madison B-cycle app at or by visiting


Many Madison Metro lines serve the campus area on the weekend, including Routes 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 13 and 80. Consult for more detailed information.


A limited amount of free parking will be available at some UW-Madison lots. Those are Nos. 20, 33, 45, 51, 54 and 92. See map for location details. Paid parking will be available at UW lots 46 and 83 (Lake & Johnson Ramp and Fluno Center garage, respectively), as well as the city of Madison's Lake Street ramp just north of University Avenue. Again, see map for locations.

Transport during the fest

Sessions at the Discovery Building and Union South are quite close, but the Gordon Center is 0.6 miles away. Walking takes approximately 10-12 minutes between the two sites, and cycling about 5 minutes. We have also arranged to have two trolley shuttles running between the two sites on both festival days. See map for locations.

Transportation services for those with disabilities will be available as well, but please contact us at in advance to describe particular needs.

Admission and Registration

Admission to all festival sessions requires a Cap Times Idea Fest badge. If you have pre-registered online at (and we strongly suggest you to do so), you should have received an e-ticket via email from Eventbrite. Bring that ticket (either printed out or on an electronic device) to a registration station at the Discovery Building (330 N. Orchard St.) or at the Gordon Center (770 W. Dayton St.) to redeem it for a badge.

It is also possible to purchase a badge on either day of the event, but only the stations at the Discovery Building can handle such transactions.


There is a 90-minute break from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday for lunch. The following vendors at festival sites will be open for business:

Union South: Daily Scoop, The Sett, Urban Slice

Discovery Building: Aldo's Cafe

Gordon Commons: The Bean and Creamery, Capital City Pizza Company, Gordon Avenue City Market

In addition, the UW Marching Band will be performing at the Discovery Building at this time. Be sure to come by and Jump Around!


Thank you to our sponsors for their ongoing support.

Have a question or a great idea?

Email us at