A dormant pit at the center of the stalled CityPlace project in downtown Burlington has been reinvigorated with artistic life recently, and one local high school student has made his mark.
Champlain Valley Union High School senior Cole Glover of Hinesburg was selected alongside 24 other area artists to paint murals onto the barriers that line the barren construction site of Bank and Cherry Streets in early October.
“From the arts perspective, we thought of it as an opportunity to highlight the diversity of the talent that is in Vermont,” explained Sara Katz, assistant director at Burlington City Arts, which executed the project initiated by the Burlington Community and Economic Development Office. “We want people to come through our downtown and feel that there was something exciting and inspirational to see, to feel that there was a reason to go down these streets.”
The stylistic array of murals accomplishes both goals.
All along the construction site wall, the average passerby can appreciate paintings of a sunset over the Adirondacks, a chicken on a motorcycle, and a flailing octopus — all unique concepts by the artists who conceived them.
The curious style of Glover’s motorcyclist chicken had its origins in his childhood.
“When I was a kid, there was a book that my parents used to read to me called ‘Captain Slaughterboard,’ (by Mervyn Peake) and I always have been super-interested in its illustrations,” the student artist said. “Some of the style was influenced by that, and I also have developed a love for cross-hatching and detailed ink.”
As for the chicken itself, the jury is still out.
“The whole chicken riding a motorcycle thing – I wouldn’t know how to explain where that came from exactly, it’s just something I thought of,” he said.
A student at both CVU and Burlington Technical Center, Glover first heard of the mural opportunity through his design and illustration teacher Ashley Stagner at the tech center. She encouraged him to apply. Drawn by the opportunity to paint on such a large scale, Glover was selected as the youngest contributor out of some 80 other applicants. He earned a panel on the barrier as his canvas and a $1,000 materials stipend.
The following is how Glover described his mural in the application proposal:
“The mural was inspired by the works of artist and author, Mervyn Peake,” Glover wrote. “The design seeks to bring humor to a somewhat difficult city upheaval. The fantastical design features a Vermont chicken carelessly riding in the open air. Where is he going in such a rush? Who knows! Definitely an adventure that only Vermont can provide. The panel will certainly brighten the day of any passer-by and remind everyone to enjoy the fresh air.”
He recalled the early October day of the mural’s installation fondly. Despite chilly temperatures and blustery winds, BCA staff paced the streets with hot coffee and fresh donuts to fuel the artists through their processes. In addition, project organizers intentionally wedged Glover between two of the more well-renowned muralists as a learning opportunity for the budding artist.
“Me being the youngest one, they thought I could learn from [the other artists], and I definitely did. It was a really cool experience,” Glover said.
The project was not without criticism directed not specifically at the artworks but at the location and the status of the development project stopped in its tracks by political and bureaucratic wrangling. Some naysayers knocked the attempt to beautify the CityPlace site where the former shopping mall was demolished to make way for a future retail, office and apartment complex.
“There were a lot of people that were against this project – they thought it was ‘putting lipstick on the pig,’ as they would say,” Glover said. “I understand their point and I agree with them in some ways, but I think that when there is an opportunity to put more art in people’s lives, that is always a positive, no matter the circumstances.”
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.