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Human Rights Mural Unveiled

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Xavier Pinnock Santana Olbino and mural. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.

A graphically striking and heartfelt mural created by Montpelier High School students was celebrated July 1 with congratulations to Xavier Pinnock Santana Olbino, who was a student leader in creating the project, and art teacher Colleen “Flan” Flanagan, who oversaw the project.

The mural was painted on the back wall of the city’s Recreation Center at 55 Barre Street.

Xavier, who will enter his senior year at Montpelier High School in the fall, said of the mural, “It is our turn to point out the wrongs and put an end to them.” He also reflected on the personal impact of structural racism and the cultural and economic divide that isolates Black communities. A 14-year-old cousin was killed by gun violence earlier this year.

“It was Xavier’s vision and ideas that guided the design of the mural. He was away for a chunk of time when the actual design process was going on. I acted as his artistic assistant while he was away, and he guided the direction of the design over multiple virtual meetings. While he was away, I had the other students in the group work on practice portraits so that we were ready to go when Xavier returned,” Flanagan said.

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Mayor Anne Watson expressed what she sees as the significance of the mural. “A fellow teacher at the high school recently told me that, ‘Good art should spark conversation.’ And I absolutely see that played out in this piece. I know this because it makes me want to have conversations about racial justice, about those who were denied justice, about those who inspire us to do better. We know too that it will spark conversation for those families and friends who walk or bike along the bike path or drive past it even just across the river. It’s really important that this piece of art is in such a visible place.” 

From left, Helen Sullivan, a Montpelier High School teacher; Hector Zeankowski-Giffin; Marlie McDermet; Mira Pompei; Xavier Pinnock Santana Olbino; and Colleen Flanagan, visual arts teacher. Not pictured but part of the mural team are Diego Harper-Vive and Kathryn McCall. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel

More Art to Come

The mural is the first among five public art projects that will be installed around the city in the coming months. Rob Hitzig, chairman of the city’s Public Arts Commission, said that the projects have been selected from among 30 responses to the commission’s Request for Proposals that was initiated in January. The commission has an annual budget of $20,000 that is supported by the city and Montpelier Alive!

“Rob and I were in constant communication throughout the process. It was great to work with the commission as a whole. We are so lucky to have this group in Montpelier to get more art into the community,” Flanagan said.

The event concluded with a solo by saxophonist Ras Moshe Bennett.

Another mural is currently being painted in the alley adjacent to the Shippee Eye Care Center on the west side of Main Street, Hitzig said.

Members of the Public Art Commission are Rob Hitzig, chair; Robert Hannum, vice chair; Ward Joyce; Jody Brown; Monica DiGiovanni; Lorenza Fechter, Montpelier High School representative; and Kevin Casey, a community development specialist who is the city staff representative.

A new mural unveiling at the Montpelier Rec Center building attracted a small crowd July 1. Photo by J. Gregory Gerdel.

This article was updated Aug. 20 to clarify language.