Vermont Arts Council

Building Community Out of Silos

“Jeffersonville Fiercely Debates Proposed Public Art” proclaimed the Stowe Reporter headline. Asked about those words, Justin Marsh, trustee of the Cambridge Arts Council (CAC) laughs. “Fierce may be a bit strong, but there has certainly been debate. And I think the project has been more successful because of it.”

Six months earlier, Marsh and CAC president Carol Plante didn’t have an idea in mind when they decided to attend a Vermont Arts Council grant seeker workshop. They were intrigued by the grant name, Animating Infrastructure, and CAC was looking for a new project. “It was a bit daunting,” said Marsh, “but the workshop organizers were encouraging and the first phase required only a one-page proposal so we went for it.”

The eventual proposal was to paint two abandoned concrete silos near the center of town. When the grant was approved, the project committee—dubbed the Silo Sisters— proudly posted online that CAC received the grant. Impassioned responses soon followed, some excited about the new project, and some that were firmly against it. The critics were few but vocal and the controversy  caught the attention of Seven Days as well as the Stowe Reporter.

Artist Sarah Rutherford presented her proposal at the Jeffersonville Festival of the Arts. The top left image is a sketch from her project proposal.

It was then that the Silo Sisters recognized the need to bring the community into the decision process earlier, and more deeply. Several open forums, community meetings, and impromptu conversations later, Jeffersonville residents gathered to vote on whether to proceed with the project. The decision was a unanimous “yes.”

Using a community-focused process, the CAC selected Sarah Rutherford to paint the murals. The Silo Sisters are understandably pleased with the outcome of the project. “I have lived here all my life and have never seen such deep community involvement,” said Marsh. “Because of the controversy, people have become engaged in thinking about what we want for our town. People are talking about art and that’s a good thing.”

The silos will be painted in spring, 2016.

This story taken from the Arts Council’s FY2015 Annual Report.