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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.

Down in the Heartland with Twin Peaks

Jack Dolan and his bandmates have been around the block.

Touring together since high school, Dolan’s band Twin Peaks released their third studio album in May. After hitting the West Coast and Europe on tour, they are making their first appearance in Burlington on Dec. 5.

The band’s roots are in Chicago, where they grew up attending and playing DIY shows in basements all around town. “We grew up going to shows hearing music that became a big part of our music,” said Dolan.

“There’s really no one true sound here,” he said, “all your peers grow up and have different styles but still stay true to Chicago.” 

DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.
DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.

During their time on the road, the band seems to have found their place in the bigger picture of contemporary music. “You get midwest cities like Madison and Milwaukee doing hardcore punk, New York with their hip underground scene,” he said.

“In Europe you get a lot more disco stuff but then places like Madrid that are really into rock,” said Dolan, “Madrid’s the shit.”

Though they’ve traveled from Paris to the Pacific Northwest, the band keeps the midwest in mind. “We just went to see Hoops from Bloomington, they’re awesome,” said Dolan. “Broncho, too–the last record they put out was super underrated,” he said of the Norman, Oklahoma natives.

Dolan and his bandmate Cadien Lake James attended high school with fellow Chicagoan Chancellor Johnathan Bennett, known as Chance the Rapper, as well. “We’ve always stayed in touch with him and took note of all the good things he does for the city,” he said.

The band recently played a voting rally downtown with Bennett, marching to the polls with thousands of locals on Election Day. “Tensions were interesting out in the city, it was a little intimidating,” said Dolan.

They have been vocal about recent political developments, but Dolan insists on staying diplomatic. “It’s easy to get hung up and shit on a bunch of conservative states,” he said.

DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.
DANIEL TOPETE. Twin Peaks.

“We play in front of great people who come out in small towns, it feels good to play rock and roll in a place where they need it.”

After their short stint touring the heartland, the band is heading east to tour with their latest album. “Down in Heaven” is a swirling trip of classic rock riffs, hazy harmonies, and subtle nods to classic motown with brass on several tracks. Slow-burners are balanced by their playful lyrics and signature slacker indie.

“A lot of the new songs are more low-key,” Dolan said, “but we’re challenging ourselves, we’re trying to refine a bit by doing a lot more harmonies.”

The album has a distinctly slower pace and ripe soul to it, a slight departure from the hectically emotive “Wild Onion” days, and even further from the melancholy, quasi-grunge character of “Sunken.”

“I don’t know about the other guys but I’ve been listening to a lot of D’Angelo lately,” Dolan joked.

Whether they’re playing mellow, folksy slow jams or fired-up rock songs, listening to Twin Peaks is a blast. Catch them playing Signal Kitchen with Golden Daze and together PANGEA on Monday at 8:00 pm.

Graveyard Shift: A Night at WRUV

Because of the WRUV graveyard shifts, the Davis Center is the UVM facility that never sleeps.

The graveyards, late night shifts reserved for new and training DJ’s,  are a mixture of scary and fun, said first-year Ashley Claude.

Though being in the Davis Center late at night can be a bit daunting, especially for a student who knows how lively and active the place typically is, there is a sense of liberty that comes along with the experience, said junior Wren Tuten, who has just recently completed her last graveyard shift.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“You’re alone with the music at an intimate time,” Tuten said.

Claude has been long done with her graveyard requirements, but still has a soft spot for the private, early-morning hours at Davis. “I loved having my own space to blare my own music and be able to dance and sing in the booth without various onlookers,” Claude said.

But there’s no denying the freaky factor. “When you’re incredibly tired, you start thinking you hear or see things,” she said.

First-year Jack Lustig, whose show “How Much Art” airs every Wednesday from midnight to 2 a.m., doesn’t mind the time.

WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV DJ Jack Lustig. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I get to be more liberal with what I play because I know not a lot of people tune in,” Lustig said. “It also cuts out the stress of having to answer the phone.”

The late night factor, however, doesn’t stop friends and family of the DJs from listening.

“It means more when people tune in at this time, like calls from my mom listening next to my dad snoring in bed,” Tuten said.

Her brother, works late nights as a restaurant manager in Key West, and often calls in or gives feedback. “It makes the whole experience much more personal and special,” she said.

Similarly, Claude said her biggest and most dedicated fan is her grandfather, who “usually wakes up in the middle of the night anyway.” On top of that, Claude’s friends and family in different timezones often listen, sometimes using WRUV’s “Chat the DJ” messaging feature to mess around with her.

Lustig’s friends from his hometown of Washington, D.C. often call in, and it’s not uncommon for him to put them on air to tell a joke. During songs, he’ll even FaceTime with people to fill the silence.

Even if the phone lines are quiet, filling the time isn’t a problem.

WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station controls. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“I always dance to the songs I play, with my boyfriend or by myself,” Tuten said.

Looking for facts to share during the on-air segments also keeps her awake. “You know I like the gross facts,” she said to her listeners. The facts Tuten shares range from strange biological nuances to the odds of getting struck by lightning while driving.

“I just love having a conversation with all of Burlington,” Tuten said. Having a show late at night or early in the morning means she can have her conversation without a script or unnecessary stress. This is likely why she said her personality shines through so clearly.

“What can I say? I love to talk!” she said.

Though Lustig chooses to limit his on-air time as much as possible, he manages to make the most out of it. On top of sharing local weather and the most recently played songs, Lustig broadcasts a wide variety of news stories, like updates on the baby panda at the National Zoo and information about the latest maple syrup crisis in Vermont.

Because the Davis Center closes at midnight, few souls wander past the studio. But between 1:30 and 2:30 a.m., the cleaning staff  passes by while cleaning the floor.

“We wave,” Tuten said.

She also said the is quiet in an eerie but also peaceful manner.

WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.
WRUV station. FRANCES KING. B-Side.

“It makes me think clearly,” Tuten said.

For some, the late night factor definitely has an influence on what is played.

“My immediate interest was always to play something soft and chill because I was so tired, but I would end up playing more rock heavy stuff to avoid falling asleep,” Claude said.

Lustig’s set gradually turns more hardcore as the night goes on.

“If I aired in the afternoon, I probably would play less metal,” he said.

Tuten said she loves to play dance and sentimental music, but not with the intention of keeping her awake. She said her set will most likely be the same once she plays afternoon slots.

“The music I play depends more on the mood I’m in, not so much time,” Tuten said. But she can’t deny that there will be more stress involved, considering more people will be listening.

DJing late at night affects the whole day leading up to it. Lustig relies on caffeine, whether in the form of coffee or Earl Grey tea.

“Honestly, I’m not sure what percentage of my blood is still blood at this point,” he said.

Tuten and Claude both prefer taking naps before their shifts. “I definitely tried to plan my day around the graveyard a little bit, and usually went to bed sort of early so I could wake up a few hours later,” Claude said.

It can be difficult to imagine who tunes in at such late hours, but Tuten said she imagines it is most likely a combination of truck drivers, insomniacs who turn on the radio as a last resort to fall asleep, and her mom.

There are aspects of the graveyard shift Claude misses.

“Although it was very difficult to get out of bed at two in the morning and bike in the rain to the Davis Center, I kind of miss the adventure of it,” she said. “It was the kind of miserable you could laugh about.”

Although Tuten has only just recently ended her graveyard shifts, she anticipates missing the intimacy. Plus, listeners are more accepting of mistakes at 2 a.m. than 2 p.m., which makes the experience feel “safer and more fun,” Claude said.

But as she is studying to be a nurse during the night shift, Tuten said she knows there is no escaping the time slot, but this is a reality she is okay with.