Tag Archives: Vermont Cynic

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.

Meandering Stowe’s Main Street & Beyond

        Sometimes, you just need to take the day and get out of town. After a long week of running from Colchester to College Street, walking down a different Vermont Main comes as a much-needed change of pace. On a relatively balmy, brilliantly beautiful January afternoon my friend Eva and I headed southeast on I-89 into the mountains to Stowe.

        For skiers and riders, Stowe has an obvious appeal; the resort has 460 acres holding 98 trails and 11 lifts. But for those who prefer to admire the trails snaking down Mount Mansfield from afar, Stowe’s Main Street establishments offer a cozy change of pace from hanging out at Bailey/Howe.

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Main Street, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        The road to Stowe is predictably gorgeous, from the first 180-degree vista of the Green Mountain peaks near Williston to the cruise up Route 100 snugly situated besides Mount Hunger.

     On either side of the road nestled in pine forests sit local, artisan cheese and wine shops, craft breweries, and outdoor gear outfitters in typical Vermont fashion.   

        As the road snakes into town, it passes snow-coated golf courses etched with Nordic tracks, fly-fishing creeks, and charming saltbox chalets. Downtown Stowe greets visitors with historic inns, white-steeple churches, and general stores stocked with everything from canned tuna to children’s books.  

        Approaching Stowe, you’ll first come up on the Vermont Ski and Snowboard museum housed in a classic white clapboard town hall.  Here, you can learn all about everything from snow bunny fashion to slope maintenance through the years of Vermont ski history.

Make a left turn and you’ll swing up to the sprawling Stowe Resort by way of mountain road as it meanders over covered bridges and past small shops and markets.

Black Cap Coffee, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Black Cap Coffee, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        Just down the street, Black Cap Coffee sits warm and welcoming on the corner of Main & School streets. The painted red brick café is homey and bright, filled with paintings and pottery by local artists. Black Cap roasts excellent coffee in-house, and its baristas can whip up a killer maple latte.

        If you’re hungry for some savories, head to Jamie’s on Main. The staff is lovely and so is the food—you can stay and hang out or grab a to-go snack for the mountains.

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Main Street, Stowe, Vermont. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

After we’d had our fill of good coffee and Stowe sightseeing, Eva and I headed a few miles up the road to Putnam State forest. The quiet woods, hidden amongst gorgeous mountain estates and small family farms, are filled with waterfalls, young pine forests, mountain streams and stunning views.

        We got out of the car and tramped along the lowland marsh trail up Moss Glen Falls: snowed-over and frozen, but with clear blue water still rushing underneath. In the summer months, the falls get plenty of visitors but in the middle of winter you’re likely to be alone in the woods.

        Grabbing hold of protruding roots and scooting slowly past ice patches, we reached the top of the waterfall and looked out west. The evergreens frame flawlessly a delicious view of Mansfield’s western slopes and the valley in its shadow.

Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        From the falls, you can wander deep into the forest on a well-kept trail covered in pine needles in the summer, and packed snow in the winter. Or, you can head back down the hill, get in the car and explore the country roads, harmlessly trespassing through some beautiful backyards.

Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.
Putnam State Forest. MAGGIE RICHARDSON. B-Side.

        Whether you’re skiing or not, spending a day in Stowe is a treat. It’s just far enough away from the campus routine to feel like an adventure, and there’s plenty to do whether you’re pining for a quiet woodland hike, locally roasted coffee, or a snapshot of smaller-town Vermont life.

           

Extra Spice in the Old North End 

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

“I’ll do medium spice, just to be safe,” said the server at Central Market Taste of Asia on North Winooski Avenue in Burlington’s North End. I tried again.

“No, I really do want it hot. I liked the curry you made me last time.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. “It has chilies in it.” I continued to emphasize that, yes, this was the level of spice I wanted, and after a fairly lengthy discussion she wrote “Hot” on the order slip and brought it out to the kitchen.

The issues I wanted to address during our discussion concerned whether or not I was doing something unusual. As a white American in a rural state, I realize that members of my demographic had probably come in before and been overwhelmed by spicy dishes— or, suspecting that they might be, had been careful to ask about a dish’s spiciness beforehand. I don’t blame my server, then, for exhibiting a bit of extra caution. Most of those inquiries had probably been followed by requests that the spiciness of an order of shrimp vindaloo or chicken tikka masala be toned down somewhat, to avoid undue discomfort.

On my first and third visits, I had apparently made the mistake of asking that same question. The first time, an otherwise delicious chicken curry arrived completely devoid of the bracing heat I’d anticipated. Its intact flavors were well-balanced and its chunks of chicken thigh were tender, but the lack of fire left me disappointed. I resolved to try again.

The second time, I ordered chicken shahi korma, a creamy curry dish with nuts and vegetables. I requested “hot,” without prefacing the request with any sort of question. I was asked to confirm my choice, and said yes with what must have been the right amount of confidence. The shahi korma was, indeed, blazingly hot. Small orange flecks of chili were visible throughout the pale sauce. On its own, the curry would have approached — but not yet reached — an uncomfortable level of heat. Accompanied by papadums, (thin, shatteringly crisp wafers of legume flour), white rice and pleasantly stretchy naan bread, the balance of heat and flavor was wonderful.

My third visit and subsequent order led to the conversation excerpted above. I had arrived with a question in mind, one I’d been mulling over since the first meal: Had my expectations of Nepalese food been skewed unrealistically toward the fiery side of things? The try-hard Westerner who seeks to prove himself by trying a foreign cuisine at its most “other” is a well-known foodie stereotype. He (for this diner is almost invariably male) is closely related to the seasoning-averse lightweight. Neither will appreciate another culture’s food except on their own terms, and neither is something I’d like to be.

veggies
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Andy Ricker, a white American restaurateur and Thai food expert known for a nearly unique deference to the culture that created his livelihood, has often suggested asking restaurant staff to “make [a dish] as you would for a Thai person.” He offers a translation of this phrase into Thai; lacking confidence in my off-the-cuff Nepali, I settled for English.

“Would a Nepalese person want this dish to be spicy?” I asked.

“Yes,” my server replied. “Nepalese people like very spicy food.” Whew. Reassured that this order would be the real deal and not just some crass stunt, I thanked her and joined my photographer, Ryan, to look through the shop’s grocery section.

Because we got to Central Market Taste of Asia toward the end of their kitchen’s operating hours, seating was not available and we had to take our order to go. To avoid a similar experience, readers should take note of the fact that Central Market sometimes closes earlier than their sign states (9:00); additionally, the kitchen closes at 8:30 and sometimes before then.

After perusing a burstingly diverse array of pan-Asian produce, packaged foods, and housewares (highlights included coconut-flavored larva-shaped cookies, perfect for Halloween; stark white cans of butane gas labeled with a red and orange explosion graphic and the word “POWER;” and a tall, slim glass bottle of fuchsia-hued “Houston Cowboy” lychee-flavored syrup, product of Thailand, complete with illustrated cartoon namesake– perhaps a placebo substitute for Houston’s better-known purple concoction?), Ryan and I collected our food and ventured outdoors in search of a place to eat.

Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.
Central Market Taste of Asia. RYAN THORNTON. The Vermont Cynic.

Tungsten streetlights lent a sleazy glow to the Old North End as we walked, and it soon became apparent that our food would grow cold before we found a table with natural lighting. We sat down to eat on the sidewalk by an African market, in full view of passing cars.

The thali platter I’d ordered included chicken and lamb curries, both assertive and complex, with tender and flavorful meat; lentil soup, whose float of orange chilies gave it a fruity, almost floral lift; the aforementioned pappadum, along with poori (a deep-fried whole-wheat bread puffed from within by steam); the creamy yogurt sauce raita, which was sweeter and thicker than Indian versions I’d had in the past; the ever-present white rice; and gulab jamun, a spherical dessert made of milk solids and soaked in cardamom-scented rosewater syrup. All were terrific. Ryan’s order of onion bhaji was enjoyable as well, although a tad greasy. We used part of the substantial portion to improvise a sort of quasi-Nepalese take on poutine, pouring a small amount of curry over the sweet, battered fried onion. It would probably have been better with some paneer to stand in for the traditional cheese curds.

All in all, I’m mostly pleased with the establishment that has replaced 99 Asian Market at 242 North Winooski Avenue. What was once Burlington’s most underrated bowl of pho has given way to an array of rich, well-spiced stews, as well as a number of noodle dishes I have yet to try. There will be plenty of opportunities in the future; already, Central Market Taste of Asia seems likely to inherit its predecessor’s place as an Old North End standby.