Thriving in Community
THRIVE! was a unique community art celebration presented by Burlington High School students taking part in the new Burlington City & Lake Semester program (BCL) in collaboration with Vermont artist Mary Lacy.
The opening on December 12 exceeded all expectations. The students’ work was looped, then projected in giant scale on the North facade of the Old North End (O.N.E.) Community Center. The result was striking and beautiful. Or as one student, Isabel, put it in her journal the next day, “It was majestic.”
Subsequent showings were hosted at Burlington High School (outdoors), Arts Riot (indoors) and Burlington’s Highlight New Year’s Eve celebration (indoors).
What if Nobody Comes?
It can feel really vulnerable to share your artwork with the world, especially when each individual piece is so personal. For many, it was the first time they’ve made art in a long time, and, for all, it was the first time sharing it so publicly. “What if nobody comes? . . . What if everybody does?” Isidora wrote in her journal right before the event. While this vulnerability is a strength in and of itself to celebrate with each piece and each person, so is the way in which all the slides fit together into a more powerful whole. This is something Wondu predicted the morning of the event: “Although each of us have worked very hard on each of our projects, I don’t think each image will be really as powerful as all of the art pieces together. In other words, our final art project enhances each of our own individual pieces in a great way.”
Another student, Sophia, wrote about trusting her classmates going into the start of the event as a way of quelling nerves. “We’re all being given new responsibilities and trusting each other to get tasks done alone . . . I feel like as a team it’ll work out.”
Meanwhile, the event inside the O.N.E. Center gymnasium was truly inspiring—both for the huge community response and the powerful student voices. More than 200 people of all ages and from all over the city (and beyond!) came to share in the food and fun.
Each student’s individual slide was a response to the overarching question “What Makes Community Thrive?” Wyatt’s word really rang true inside the O.N.E. Center gymnasium with all those people. “My word, ‘Location,’ was really brought to life during the art show. In my short paragraph on location that I included with my art in the book, I talked about how location is where the community can gather, and that is exactly what happened.”
Location was important. But it wasn’t just the existing gymnasium that made the location feel significant. It was the way in which the students transformed it. Because of the projectors, the overhead lights needed to stay off. Students hung string lights all around the room. This gave the location such a warm and intimate energy. It also meant that the projections themselves (one of which was on the high ceiling) were a major source of light for the room. That specific “location” will likely never exist again. It was totally unique.
In addition to the transformative space, it was memorable to hear students share their insights into what a community needs to thrive; and express their sense of ownership for this art project and their experience in the City & Lake Semester. About ten students spoke, each going to the podium and speaking into the microphone individually at first, then all stepping forward together for Q&A. Moments before walking onto the stage, the students were still whispering their speeches to themselves and giggling with each other in anticipation. But each spoke with such confidence when they had the microphone. Especially during the Q&A, which was unscripted, but that made it all the more real and powerful.
One student who spoke, Kelsey, reflected on the experience in her journal: “It was very nerve-wracking, but definitely felt genuine to get to address a group of people from my heart. It’s something I feel that helped me break my fears and really feel like an important part of our BCL community.”
“I think our event also empowered—for us as students. Maybe other viewers felt empowered to make change too, but certainly it was empowering for us.” This came from Emma.
The students completely captivated the audience. Everyone was listening; there were no side conversations in the 200+ person crowd. “I can feel the energy coming off you,” one person told Simran.
In addition to the overall vulnerability involved with expressing yourself so publicly, the logistics of the event weren’t easy either. There was a lot of problem-solving and plenty of new experiences that the students took on themselves. For example, Famo, who was on the event planning team, took the lead on connecting with the building managers. “I was the one in contact with Migmar and Scott. Having people depend on me for them to be able to do their thing and have their questions answered was new for me because I usually don’t put myself in the leadership position. It was stressful at times when I didn’t know how to answer a question, but overall it was a good experience and taught me a lot about leadership.”
THRIVE! was a student-led project. It was theirs to envision, theirs to problem-solve, theirs to fret over, theirs to own, theirs to celebrate. As Kaitlyn noticed, this made the class closer. “[The event] also brought our group together. Our group was close, but the planning, putting on, and the actual event brought us closer. We did everything ourselves and we had to be leaders. We went to each other if we didn’t know what to do.”
The students built community as they built community. Vulnerability is a part of growth, of becoming closer, of making community. The students moved through that with so much grace and awareness and trust in each other. They embodied their own answers to “What Makes A Community Thrive” in the most genuine way and the public could feel it. It was an honor to witness.
Additional Student Reflections
“After the event, one of the biggest things I was feeling was like I was expressed. Our art expressed us in a way I was unaware it could. Through art as our platform, we could express our learning, our creativity, and a lot of ourselves.” – Ruby
“In order to get a projector we had to research different resources and I took the lead on emailing with Ken Howell and securing the projector. This is something I have never had to do before and it felt good to take on this responsibility and leadership.” – Mary
“I had to overcome a lot of problems with cords, chargers, computers, adapters, projectors, etc. Some of these were stressful because they occurred during the event.” – Julius
“Something new I did was researching something that I had interest in and then meeting with people to get deeper knowledge.” – Denise
“A problem that arose for me and my group was obtaining the projector for the Thrive! event . . . The projector we needed cost $100,000, while we had a budget of around $1,000.” – Soren
“Something new that I did was fundraising and asking community partners for money. I liked getting responses, like from Melinda Moulton, because it made me feel professional in a way.” – Finn
“I think it’s going to be a beautiful turnout and hopefully it really speaks to people and makes an impact on our community. I have very high hopes for our event and I hope our projection piece gets the recognition it needs/deserves.” – Awa
“It felt good to have a finished piece of art that I was happy with and excited about sharing with the Burlington community.” – Belle
“[The event] provoked people to think about school in a different way and it got people asking questions.” – Julius
“I want my art to open up conversations about what does friendship mean as a community and as an individual.” – Eva
“I found this interesting because in any group we could not find a way to really measure love and I’m curious how someone would measure it.” – Faizo
“We shared our artwork, our experiences, and thoughts (and food) with the larger community and this was a really powerful vibe.” – Isabel
“Also on the night of the event I mingled with people for the purpose of talking about BCL. I have never felt like I had to talk to people specifically about one thing. It was almost like networking.” – Simran
“Out there, I watched other people looking at our work, smiling, hugging loved ones, everything seemed so hopeful.” – Isidora