On Monday afternoon, three South End artists gather in E1 Studio on Pine Street to put finishing touches on the 200 wooden "seeds" they plan to sow throughout the Burlington neighborhood. Muralist Tara Goreau, glass artist Terry Zigmund and woodcutter Matt Gang are collaborating on "Seeds for SEAD" ("SEAD" being the acronym for South End Arts District). It's one of the first "creative placemaking" projects funded by PlanBTV South End.
The city's long-term project aims, among other things, to create a master plan for the development of the South End. Burlington City Arts received a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to promote an "artist-led information engagement and visioning process." On November 10, BCA put out a request for proposals for creative projects designed to inspire community conversations. One week later, it announced the formation of a five-person RPF review committee: Adam Brooks, executive director of the South End Arts and Business Association; Natalie Miller of the Vermont Comedy Club (and a SEABA board member); Sandrine Thibault of the city's Department of Planning & Zoning; and longtime South End artists Zigmund and Steve Conant. The panel will convene for the first time on Friday, November 21.
"Seeds for SEAD" — which Goreau and Zigmund hatched during planBTV's public artists' meeting on October 31 — was one of the first ideas proposed in relation to the project. Some of them were "fast-tracked," says Zigmund, to roll out in conjunction with the South End Crawl this Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22.
"Hopefully people will come out and participate and give their input," she says.
Before the weekend, the trio's large woodcut "trees" — colorfully painted with cityscapes by Goreau — will be placed near Conant Metal & Light and the SEABA Center on Pine Street, and Vintage Inspired Lifestyle Marketplace on Flynn Avenue. Two hundred palm-sized wooden "seeds" will be scattered throughout the area for pedestrians to find.
One side of each seed depicts a SEAD logo; the other has a blank paper label. On it, seed finders are invited to write a response to one of two questions — What about the South End makes you smile? or What about the South End should be changed? — and to return the seed to one of the "trees." (Rewards from Lake Champlain Chocolates will be offered to encourage participation.)
Though the first deadline has past, artists and other community stakeholders will have many opportunities to submit proposals over the next five months, says BCA assistant director Sara Katz. In fact, they can submit them anytime.
"If a project misses a deadline," she notes, it will "just move on to the next deadline for when the panel meets again."
As planBTV South End moves forward, the review panel will be looking for projects that evolve along with the conversation. "Right now, [the projects focus on] these very open-ended, What do you love? and What do you hope to see changed in the future? questions," says Katz, who cowrote the NEA grant last winter with Thibault. "Then there'll be a phase that's more of a visioning process where people will be getting a lot more concrete in their responses. And after that," Katz continues, "there will be a need to develop [the master] plan. All along the way, people's input will be appreciated and requested."
The NEA grant did not stipulate how the funds should be used to promote the "artist-led" visioning process, and Katz acknowledges that lack of specifics occasioned initial public confusion. The RFP process and the NEA funds, she clarifies, are separate from the planning process itself.
"People are worried that the arts are somehow going to be used to promote development, when the reality is, the arts are going to be used as a way for people to talk about what they care about," Katz says. "Hopefully the plan can incorporate that information, [rather than] letting things happen as a result of market forces."
At E1 studio, the artists definitely plan to contribute to the South End conversation. They're concerned that development will edge them out of the neighborhood. "This is where we live," says Goreau, gesturing around the studio. "This is basically home; this is where we spend all our time."