Three years and 3,000 mini models later–meet the brains behind the statewide scavenger hunt.
Like many people struggling with isolation during the height of the pandemic, Madison’s Ken Fager started looking for new ways to stay entertained. That’s when he came up with a “tiny” idea.
“One of the few groups I would see in my neighborhood were Pokemon Go players,” he said. “I knew I wanted to do something social and give people a reason to get out of the house.”
So Fager started playing around with a 3D printer, making mini models of the Wisconsin State Capitol Building to start. When the pile of prototypes began piling up on his desk, “it occurred to me that I could just give them away,” he said. The Mini WI Project was born.
He put each one in a small plastic bag, along with a Jolly Rancher, and hid them in Little Free Libraries around downtown Madison. He’d leave clues on his Instagram profile about where they might be. Initial feedback from the r/madisonwi subreddit community was immediately positive, so he kept going.
Three years and more than 3,000 mini models later, Fager’s quarantine pastime has gone viral (cough)—even outlasting the pandemic.
“I now have three printers that work continuously, producing models that take between 70-120 minutes,” he said. “I never imagined this would persist past quarantine, but this project has been phenomenal for my mental and physical health, as I bike around town to distribute them.”
In addition to State Capitol models, Fager makes dozens of different Wisconsin icons “to keep things fresh,” including cows, birds, and more. Most have ended up in Madison or Green Bay, but Fager is sure to bring a handful to wherever he is in the Badger State.
“I guess the goal now is to just keep spreading random acts of joy and art around,” he said. “Discovering a Mini WI usually requires you to just happen upon it in a Little Free Library or follow one of my random Instagram story clues.”
Fager, who still works full-time as a classroom technologies specialist and library manager at the University of Wisconsin, makes all his ‘Mini Wisconsins’ for free, thanks to donors who send material donations.
Want to help? Click here.
Find a Mini WI? Click here to let Fager know!
As for what’s next? “If you happen to be visiting the excellent Dane County Farmers Market, be sure to stop by the Forward statue,” Fager said. “There may be something popping up here and there. I’ve already said too much.”
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