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Renewal Project Brightens Storefronts

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Monica DiGiovanni, who directs the Renewal Project, stands beside part of “Illuminated Paper Bag Stars,” created by K–6 students in an afterschool program at T.W. Wood Gallery and on display in the windows of Positive Pie at 22 State Street. Photo by Tom McKone.
Before there was business, there was art.

For weeks after the July flood, downtown Montpelier looked like a ghost town where few other than members of clean-up and construction crews were working. It was an especially hard time for businesses that faced existential challenges and decisions, and a puzzling time for visitors who didn’t know there had been a flood.

With grants from the Vermont Community Foundation and National Life, Montpelier Alive created the Renewal Project to use art to soften the dismal atmosphere, to hide some of the vacant spaces, and to bring hope, levity, and inspiration back to downtown.

“Bringing art into empty spaces gave people a sense that there was movement forward and that there was a possibility to rebuild,” said the project’s director, Monica DiGiovanni. “The project also let the public know that there was something happening and it wasn’t just an abandoned town, which is the way it looked.”

Storefront art installations started going up in the heart of downtown — on Main, State and Langdon streets — at the beginning of October. At the height, there were 16 installations, including one spread over 11 locations. Although many will come down on New Year’s Day, some — like those highlighted below — are expected to stay up longer. 

“First We Watched the Waters Rise,” Kim Ward’s interactive community poetry project, is in a window of Delish at 5 State Street, even though the store has opened. The title is a poetry prompt, and viewers are invited to take a poem about the flood or to leave one.

Across the street at Positive Pie, windows are abundantly adorned by “Illuminated Paper Bag Stars” made by children in an afterschool program at T.W. Wood Gallery.

At the TD Bank building, on the corner of State and Main streets, Chris Jeffrey’s “Montpelier Lights” is puzzling by day and beautiful by night. The six panels use high-tech optical filters to create fascinating light shows.

Mosaic Vermont’s “Roots of Change,” a collective project led by Mary Mackle and comprising dozens of panels created by different people and put together to create coherent images, is at 20 Langdon Street.

Elliot Burg’s dramatic and moving photography is on display at both 68 Main Street and 8 Langdon Street.

“Shortly after the July flood, my wife and I joined hundreds of volunteers to help local businesses in Montpelier clean out watery basements and sort through water-soaked merchandise,” Burg wrote in the poster accompanying his work. “The scene was both grim, in the scale of the destruction, and inspirational, in the number and spirit of the people who showed up to work. The following day, I brought my cameras to town and went out on the street to try to capture scenes of resilience and recovery.”

Locations and information about all the installations are on the Montpelier Alive website.

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