Danville Public Art
Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is known for family farms, a small, low-density population, and rolling glacier-carved hills. Tradition informs decisions and change comes slowly. U.S. Route 2 is an important east-west road highway that enters Vermont in Alburg and exits in Guildhall. Along the way, this thoroughfare runs through Danville — a small village in the Northeast Kingdom with a strong sense of community.
Route 2 is Danville’s Main Street. A village green, the town offices, a community library, businesses, and private homes are on this route. Danville’s K-12 school also borders the road; many children walk along the highway each day. When the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) was ready to upgrade the road, town representatives and VTrans struggled with community concerns about pedestrian safety and the impact the incursion of an expanded federal highway would have on the village. The project was stalled for years.
A Solution Emerges
By 1999, staff at the Vermont Arts Council and VTrans had engaged in several discussions about the value of public art and the role artists could play in community infrastructure projects. At this point, VTrans invited the Council to participate in a pilot project in Danville using both the arts and the principles of Context Sensitive Design. VTrans and the Council jointly approached the Danville Town Select Board to gauge its interest in partnering in this type of work. Everyone was able to agree to move toward preserving the essential rural character of Danville while keeping the village center intact and maintaining an important state transportation corridor.
The re-development work was to be a collaboration between artists, community members, and engineers. Community members and artists were engaged early in the design process. A local review committee comprised of community stakeholders formulated project goals, selected artists, and had input into all phases of the design work. The lead artists were David Raphael, principal of the Vermont-based landscape design firm, Landworks of Middlebury, and Andrea Wasserman, of Vershire, Vermont. Raphael and Wasserman engaged several other artists and designers in the project.
At the Intersection of Art and Infrastructure
Since 2014, gateway signs, fence posts, and traffic islands announce the entrances to the village and calm traffic. Sidewalks extending throughout the village and decorative light posts increase pedestrian safety. The artistic enhancements include sculptural granite posts, a re-designed bandstand on the green, stone walls, and plantings. All of these elements refer to the natural world, the community, and the educational mission of the school.
This transportation project was the first collaboration of its kind in the state. The project tangibly demonstrates the positive impact the inclusion of art in infrastructure can have in communities. By helping them to meet goals of livability, walkability, safety, economic vitality, and community vibrancy, artists contribute to creating public spaces that distinguish Vermont from elsewhere. Main Street in Danville is a public space that people value and will want to preserve for generations to come.