Behind the Art – Jill Sebastian on Spaces and Places (Video)

BtA is our blog series that uses imagery, audio, video and text to tell stories about artists and their artwork. This episode was produced by Madeline Pieschel and Howard Leu.

On this episode,

we visited artist and educator Jill Sebastian‘s studio and home in the Walker’s Point neighborhood. She talked with us about the ideal living and studio space, being an educator, public/community art, controversy surrounding her Philosophers’ Stone art project, sound advice to young artists and much more.

Questions from the video:

(0:15) — What sort of studio and living space were you specifically looking for? How did this space help you grow as an artist?

(03:04) — What does it mean for you to ‘Be in the studio’? Is it just as much a mental space as it is a physical place?


(05:43) — How does your studio help you envision your agency and beyond that, your own life?

(07:51) — What did you learn from the outcome of your Philosophers’ Stone project in Madison? (Scroll down to learn more about the Philosophers’ Stone project).


(11:22) — How do you envision and plan projects for public space?

(13:13) — What’s the different between community art and public art?


(18:35) — What led you to become an educator? What are your thoughts on Wisconsin’s new education leniency regarding teachers?

(21:06) — The creative industry is constantly evolving. How do you see art graduates doing in the world today?


Conflict surrounding the Philosophers’ Stones

In 2004, Sebastian did a public art piece entitled the “Philosophers’ Stones” in which a total of 55 granite and bronze forms lined six blocks of State Street in Madison, WI. State Street is a vibrant thoroughfare that connects the State Capital with the University of Wisconsin. It is an area with a high volume of foot traffic, shopping, and cultural and political happenings.

Sebastian’s idea for the stones was to create a space where people could socialize, work, think, and people watch outside, at the convenience of not having to walk into a store to do so. The stones attract all kinds of people and the pieces are incredibly utilized.


This past year, the stones have picked up criticism from business owners in the area who suggest that the stones are contributing to unwanted behavior such as an increase in the loitering of the homeless, as well as protests, which business owners argue negatively effects their businesses.

A group known as the Young Gifted and Black Coalition particularly attracted attention in Madison for protesting the death of 19-year-old Tony Robinson. For the past few months the activist group has demonstrated at the State Street location and the stones are right there in the center of the action. Business owners have increasingly grown upset while Mayor Paul Sogin has come to the consensus that something needs to be done to appease the unhappy citizens and business owners.

While the stones around State Street may have been viewed as a desirable place for a group to meet and protest, one must consider that the State Capitol is also only one block away. It seems that whether the stones were there or not, the demonstrations would have happened in the same area regardless. The stones fell under much blame for the unwanted behavior and many have requested their removal. The arts board held several meetings before coming to the decision that 11 stones will be removed.


Images of Philosophers’ Stones courtesy of

Madeline Pieschel is a recent journalism graduate from Marquette University. She is an artist and arts enthusiast and hopes to utilize her journalism degree through opening up conversation between artists and their communities. This fall she plans on enrolling in art history courses at UWM.

Howard Leu is the marketing communications coordinator at WPCA and a freelance photographer.