Tag Archives: Burlington City Arts

Behind Burlington’s Creative Social Network

It’s no secret that Burlington is a creative community — this much can be understood by simply looking at jackets and backpacks Burlingtonians  embellish with the Grateful Dead logo.

In an attempt to better understand Burlington’s artistic spirit, I reached out to a number of local artists and creators to get their insights on what makes Burlington’s art scene so special.

Creativity is displayed on every corner of this little city, which is home to a thriving, diverse and constantly evolving artistic community.

“What has remained the same over the last 30 years is that there’s always been this naive excitement, artists have been excited to create,” said Christy Mitchell, the south end’s S.P.A.C.E Gallery owner and founder.     

During our interview,  I found myself schmoozing with Mitchell in a conversation that felt more like a friendly chat over lunch than an interview.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the twelve studio spaces in the gallery where there lay a barely-organized cornucopia of brushes, paints, and papers.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A studio belonging to artist Peter Richards at Burlington’s S.P.A.C.E. Gallery.

They were scattered around a desk that was surrounded on all sides by massive, in-progress works of art.

Mitchell’s inclusion of artist studios in her gallery was in response to an epidemic of Burlington gallery closings due to of financial troubles.

Her solution to this problem was to use the rent she collected from the studio spaces to cover the overhead costs of keeping the gallery open.

“The art scene in Burlington seems positive and inclusive; I think the only problem is people not knowing about things going on,” Mitchell said.   

With this model, her space is one that can stick around regardless of art sales, Mitchell said.

Local artist and sculptor, Beth Robinson, a self-proclaimed fan of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery,  praised Mitchell’s unique business model. Robinson has been exhibiting and working at the gallery since its beginnings in 2009, she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Owner and Creative Director of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, Christy Mitchell.

“Christy’s answer to the financial problems of a gallery was brilliant, it means she doesn’t need to display only commercially-viable art which opens up a lot more possibilities for people to express themselves,” Robinson said.

Her relationship with the S.P.A.C.E. became more unique during her second year at the gallery, when she began to curate an annual Halloween show.  

Robinson’s first Halloween show consisted only of friends who were “dark artists,” a title she gave to others whose art explored horrific themes.

During her second year, Robinson opened the show up to submissions from the public, and received over 200 entries. The show grew in size and popularity each year, and is now consistently one of the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery’s most successful and lucrative events.

“It’s insane how excited people get about it,” Robinson said.

Another huge name in Burlington is the Burlington City Arts Center, a central institution in the community for artists and exhibitionists alike.

To get an insider’s perspective on the world of BCA, I sat down with local painter and UVM art professor Cami Davis.

“The community has exploded since I returned from graduate school in the early ‘80s,” Davis said. “Once upon a time, all the artists knew each other, it was such a small community.”

Davis’s view of the Burlington scene contrasted with the view of newer Burlingtonians.

They described the community as small and tight-knit. While described she said she thought of it as more of a large, creative, and diverse community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Gallery space at Burlington City Arts.

I then asked Davis about her experience with exhibiting at BCA, a topic she seemed ecstatic to discuss.

“I found it to be one of the most interesting venues that I’ve ever participated in, mainly because it had such a sense of community,” she said of her recent installation at BCA: “Airs, Waters, Soils (Places).”

The installation displayed a series of  jars filled with water, soil, stone and plant samples taken from Lake Champlain and its tributaries in an attempt to explore “issues pertaining to clean water in the Lake Champlain Basin,” according to Davis’ website.

The jars were accompanied by large, expansive paintings that used a color palette of earth and water tones in order to connect and interact with the water samples.

“To me, BCA is so effective in connecting artists to the community,” Davis said. After hearing such a favorable view of BCA, I met with the director and head curator of the gallery — Heather Ferrell — to see how she views BCA’s place in the Burlington community.

While exhibiting my power of terrible timing, I managed to meet with Ferrell three hours before her first ever opening reception for her exhibition.

Despite having tons of little things to fix before the big opening, she still made time to chat about her gallery and its place in Burlington’s tight-knit artistic community.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. A gallery opening at Burlington City Arts.

“The art scene is a thriving and vibrant hotbed of activity that’s very impressive for a city this size,” Ferrell said, “it’s one of the things that attracted me to this position and relocating my family here to Burlington.”

BCA makes numerous efforts to aid local artists and the community as a whole, she said.

“BCA helps artists with presenting exhibitions, supporting artists financially, helping sell their work, organizing off-site exhibitions and connecting artists and community,” Ferrell said.

Considering she is making so many efforts to help out other people in the community, it’s no surprise Ferrell said she felt the community feel made the art better.

“I don’t see this as a competitive environment, I see it as one that’s environmentally rich,” she said.

MAX MCCURDY. B-Side. Burlington City Arts Director and Head Curator, Heather Ferrell, with her daughter.

Upon arriving at the show that night, I saw just how tight-knit the Burlington arts community was.

On the first floor was a photography exhibition on the American South by Shane Lavalette entitled “One Sun, One Shadow.”

In the corner, I saw Lavalette discussing his work with a group of locals.

Wylie Sofia Garcia’s “With My Voice, I Am Calling You Home,” a painting exhibit that focused on themes of domesticity, meditation, and personal place-making occupied the gallery’s second floor.

A group of strangers were comparing the use of diverse arrays of color palettes throughout the paintings.

In the mixed-media show on the gallery’s top floor entitled “The Past Present” by Molly Bosley and Athena Petra Tasiopoulos, artists sought to explore humanity and its relationship with history.  

Passionate discussions about the pieces and their possible meanings continued, and I ran into Mitchell, a pleasantly surprising crossing-of-paths that further illustrated just how tight-knit and interconnected the Burlington art community is.

After speaking with so many vital and active members of the Burlington arts community, attending a major artistic function and exploring a number gallery spaces I had never seen before, I can say with some confidence that the Burlington art community is truly as warm, inviting, tight-knit, and ambitious as everyone said.

Not once did any person I talked to mention ever feeling ostracized, intimidated, or unwelcome among their fellow artists.

Time and time again, I heard stories of being welcomed without question, consistently receiving support from fellow artists, and never sensing the slightest bit of competitive nature.

Our artistic community is not only something Burlingtonians should feel proud of, it’s a community we should give back to, a community we should support, and a community we should all strive to join.

Cricket Blue Haunts with Ethereal Folk

    Cricket Blue makes exactly the kind of music you would expect when you hear their name.

    The folk duo is comprised of Middlebury College alumni Laura Heaberlin and Taylor Smith, who play what they have deemed “botanical, spooky, umbilically-resonant folk.” With soft vocal harmonies and carefully constructed guitar rhythms, Heaberlin and Smith craft a fine balance of eerie mystery and intriguing warmth that engulfs listeners.

      Cricket Blue’s allusive and poetic folk music is rooted in Heaberlin and Smith’s long-standing love of writing. Poetry was Heaberlin’s main focus at Middlebury, with a book of poems serving as her final thesis. Poetry, for her, started “as a tortured unrequited love,” said Heaberlin, which evolved into a fascination with the art.

laura and taylor
Taylor Smith and Laura Heaberlin of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Despite their seemingly similar natures, Heaberlin insists that poetry and songwriting are not as connected as they may seem. Poetry tends to be “more abstract with more room for free-writing,” she said, while lyrics tend to come from more of an “emotional base.” In fact, Heaberlin’s career as a songwriter didn’t begin until after her graduation from Middlebury in 2012.  

        While it’s not uncommon for Heaberlin to draw upon her free-writing notebook for inspiration after figuring out the instrumental elements, the opposite is true for Smith. Most of the time, the words come to him before the melody. Sometimes, however, the two come together as a package.

       “There is something special about the marriage of words and music,” Smith said. While poetry tends to be “static,” with words on a page, the melody “makes the words more active,” he said. Both Heaberlin and Smith agree that poetry and songwriting occupy, as Smith said, “different parts of the brain.”

        Regardless of how the duo writes the lyrics, it’s clear from their self-titled EP that they are well-versed in literature. Their songs make allusions to mythology, and explore themes such as  “love, wishes, disappointment, friendship, potential future and the ends of things,” according to Cricket Blue’s Bandcamp bio.

      With lyrics like “Forsooth, forsythia! Yellow and sad / You lost all your blossoms in May / But take it from me – a forsythia tree – / our love comes the strongest too late,” Cricket Blue manages to convey through fictional imagery a strong sense of relatable remorse, with a melody that matches.  

Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

        For Smith and Heaberlin, writing is always a personal matter, and can’t be done together. Instead, they present songs to one another once the songs are 75 percent complete; never less and never more. A certain creative balance between Smith and Heaberlin makes the song writing and editing process easier. Smith, who said he feels “energized by meeting new people and discovering new places,” practices improvisation and experiences “rapid bursts of inspiration.” However, Heaberlin, who “likes to go home at the end of the night,” leans towards quietude and takes her time on each word when songwriting.

        Perhaps the combination of extroversion and introversion is why they work so well together. Even after many long car rides they “still find new things to talk about,” Smith said, in part because they both enjoy exploring and observing the quirks of the towns they perform in. In fact, they’ve created an excel sheet with random observations to base judgement off of. For example, a small town in Pennsylvania was especially memorable because “parking was cheap and everyone in the coffee shop was having a deep conversation,” Heaberlin said.

        Given that they do what they do so well, it’s surprising to learn they experiment with different sounds in their free time. Smith describes his earlier music as more raw, loud and “complaining,” truly epitomizing teenage angst.

Today Smith remains dedicated to the Cricket Blue project, but also plays saxophone in four alternative bands on the side, including Abbie Morin, The Peasant Dramatic and Grundlefunk. Heaberlin said she feels less of a need to play around with different genres. When Smith is touring with his other bands, Heaberlin often plays solo shows performing Cricket Blue’s music.

        It’s evident from the logistical standpoint that Cricket Blue is on the rise. Their first and only EP was recorded at home on a laptop. Their second up-and-coming EP, which has no release date yet, was recorded with the record label Beehive at a studio in Saranac Lake, where Smith and Heaberlin perform separately. However, there hasn’t been one specific breakthrough moment for them; the progression has felt gradual, Smith said.

        Part of this is because they can foresee the next big thing, such as an EP release or an exciting show, and they worked hard to achieve their milestones, Smith said. The pursuit of success is not always as glamorous as it may seem. Even though they have no doubt that they’re living their dreams, the reality is that they “still have to write emails,” said Smith.

“More time is spent on the business side and driving than actually performing the music,” Heaberlin said.

        Both Heaberlin and Smith celebrate every little step. For example, Cricket Blue has started to get “a lot of cool junk mail, like watches to sell at shows,” said Heaberlin. The band now also has its own bank account, further proving the band is growing up.

        What makes a Cricket Blue listener?

      “A genuine love for lyrics and wordplay,”  Heaberlin said.

   “People who like stories, ideas, and feeling a little melancholy,” Smith said.

     Heaberlin and Smith said they have a lot of respect and gratitude for their listeners, as they got the band to where they are today. This is one of the reasons why they veer away from the word “fan” in general, which implies a “weird power structure,” Smith said. In the end, nothing means more to them than people truly paying attention to their music.

Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.
Taylor Smith of Cricket Blue. SAM HELLER. The Vermont Cynic.

    Afterall, having “four people really listening to the music is more meaningful than having 70 people talking,” Heaberlin said.

   “One person really liking it makes all the difference,” Smith said.

    Smith said he often feels inspired by songs where “one line can just hit you.” The irony is that with lyrics like “I’ve loved you for years—glad to finally meet” and  “I wanna give in, I wanna make waves,” Cricket Blue essentially creates exactly these kinds of songs.

    When addressing the Burlington music scene, Smith said it is a “fantastic scene that differs from our sound.” Performing frequently in the local area at venues like The Skinny Pancake and Radio Bean, Cricket Blue is in high demand and seems to have captured the hearts of music lovers throughout Burlington.

Fun with Friends and Family

F+FIn warehouses, coffee shops and living rooms across town, a local collective of musicians and music-lovers called Friends and Family is working to bring live music from concert venues to the community.

“We’re an outlet for DIY performance in Burlington,” said Dana Heng, UVM alumna and member of the collective. “We book bands we want to see and that we couldn’t see any other way.”

Friends and Family started in 2011, filling the void that local concert booking group Tick Tick left when they disbanded in 2009.

“We were seeking out something that was missing and this is what was missing,” Heng said.

The collective seeks to cultivate a vibe different from shows held in beer-soaked basements, while maintaining a down-to-earth, welcoming atmosphere.

“I want to feel comfortable at a show, and I’m not as comfortable in normative spaces with all the bro vibes,” said UVM junior and collective member Claire Macon.

“[At the shows] we’re having a great time, we’re all calm and happy,” Macon said. “It’s by us, for us.”

Friends and Family is unique in that they aren’t chained to a single venue. “We book bands that want to come to Burlington but don’t want to play Higher Ground,” Heng said. “It’s more accessible that way.”

Heng emphasized the strong connection to the community fostered by the traveling venue setup. “People will offer spaces, people want us to play a show in their basements,” Heng said.

Close community ties allow Friends and Family to branch out beyond the college music scene.

“Young kids, families, everyone comes to shows,” Macon said. “It’s not just a party.”

The collective has organized shows throughout the area from South End’s Speaking Volumes to Winooski’s Monkey House.

“We want [the shows] to be safe spaces for everyone — a community of love, support and respect,” Macon said.

That community of support and respect extends beyond Burlington’s borders, with Friends and Family’s sister organizations from Chicago to Montreal.

“When you do things together, there’s a sense of accountability,” Macon said of the collective’s “extended family.” “It’s great for networking, bands can come from all over and have a place to stay.”

The extended family is not only a support system, but also an ideological union. “We’re meeting people who are working towards a broad main goal, fighting the shitty stuff,” Macon said.

In addition to a diverse array of venues, Friends and Family welcomes musicians of all different calibers.

“There are people from Berklee and the Boston Conservatory who play up here, and then people who just want to pick up and instrument and play for the first time,” Heng said.

“It’s all about what’s happening out of the mainstream,” Macon said. “It’s the weirdest stuff.”

The collective’s next show is Sunday, Sept. 20 at Burlington City Arts.