Home Commentary Opinion Op-ed: A City Defined by Its Art

Op-ed: A City Defined by Its Art


By Glen Coburn Hutcheson

As a community, how do we show others who we are? How do we know ourselves? Public art! Well-chosen, well-placed artwork communicates a place’s character better than anything else—think of the Statue of Liberty. If we define art to include buildings that aren’t strictly necessary, then think of the Egyptian pyramids or of Europe’s medieval cathedrals. When a culture spends resources on something beyond simple survival, the results tell us everything we know about who those people were, what their aspirations were, what they loved enough to preserve and share.
Montpelier’s new Public Art Commission gives us the chance to think these questions through, and to define our community for visitors, residents, and those to come. The City Council plans to appoint the volunteer commission this month, and has proposed a budget of $20,000 for the first year (FY2020). The Public Art Commission will cultivate our Public Art Master Plan, advising the City Council on matters of art, initiating new public art projects, and managing the city’s art for the future.
It’s clear that Montpelier already has more than enough creative energy to be a center for the arts. Langdon Street Alive, the Art Walk, and the Valentine Phantom are great examples of our city’s character. I know from my own experience as a founding member of The Front art gallery that our region is surprisingly wealthy in talented, skilled people who just need a venue to show their work in a community that celebrates culture.
The Public Art Commission will be a channel for that energy, giving us all a chance to say “Yes, this is what we like; this is who we are.” Getting to that consensus may sometimes require discussion and disagreement among the commissioners, the residents, and the Council, as it should. To me, that public process can be part of the beauty of our culture. We don’t have princes or pharaohs deciding what to build on city land; all of us decide together (often by arguing and voting).
It can be easy to think of art as an unnecessary frill, an un-Yankee luxury. But art isn’t just a decoration for community; in some ways it is community. We come together where there are beautiful things—these days, to take selfies (art in itself), but also to meet friends, to welcome visitors, to mark an occasion. The ascension of Ceres, the new sculpture by Jerry Williams and Chris Miller, to the State House dome recently was such an occasion. Every morning Ceres greets me from across the river as I walk to work. Soon I’ll be able to take a spin with friends on the city of Montpelier’s first commissioned artwork, the sculpture by Rodrigo Nava and Gregory Gomez, planned for the porch of our new transit center. Once it’s installed, I will sit with you there anytime.
I’m looking forward to meeting the to-be-appointed Public Art commissioners. I’ve watched over the past few years as many people—artists, business and non-profit workers, city officials, and other residents—worked to draft the Public Art Master Plan and to lay the groundwork for the commission. I hope to see more than enough volunteers this first year, and I’m confident that the commission will be well-staffed for as long as we need it.
To learn more about the responsibilities of serving on the commission or to apply for a seat, visit the city’s website here: montpelier-vt.org. Or just stop by the City Manager’s office.
How will our successors know us? What artifacts and monuments will we produce? What would I like to see, myself, on my walk to work downtown every morning? I don’t know, but I look forward to the work. Onward!
Glen Coburn Hutcheson is a Montpelier City Councilor representing District 3.