BRATTLEBORO — A project seeking to expand people's relationships with the Connecticut River is ready for the public to see.

"We're hoping the community will engage with the work," said Evie Lovett, a photographer involved in the project.

She was joined by Elizabeth Billings and Andrea Wasserman, two artists with a background in public art, on Tuesday, June 21. The three women were hanging an 8- by 25-foot photographic collage, featuring water, on the side of a building on Depot Street in front of the river.

"To the River, From the River" is a public arts project funded through a National Endowment for the Arts "Our Town" grant awarded to the town of Brattleboro.

At Gallery Walk on Friday, July 1, the community is invited to bring a picnic dinner and have ice cream floats by the river to celebrate the opening of the installations. Town officials and the artists will meet the public at 6 p.m. at the Transportation Center, where the "Projected Water" video will be played. At 6:15 p.m., dancers from the Southern Vermont Dance Festival will lead the assembled group to the Riverfront at Depot Street to gather at 6:30 p.m. Legible Bodies Dance Company will perform an excerpt from "NarcissUS," which will be performed during the dance festival from July 14 to 17 in Brattleboro.


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"We had this idea of bringing the community to the river and the river to the community, which we felt was really not a visible seamless place when we started," Wasserman said. "Every time we talked about the project, it evolved, thinking about how that connection could be recognized and be uplifting to underutilized spaces within the town."

Before a cleanup of the site at Depot Street, Billings said the property was used for turning coal into gas. The artists with assistance from about 35 volunteers in the community have turned the site into a green space.

Vines and invasive species were cleared from an area near the river. A chipper was even brought in for the job.

"There was this inspiration," Lovett said. "You could see the river."

Within an hour, Billings said, people were coming out of the Whetstone Station to take photos. The restaurant is across the street from the site. Stones and granite benches have been placed there for sitting or viewing the art and the river.

The hope is that others will take selfies or photos near the river then post the pictures on social media and use the hashtag "totheriverfromtheriver" to create a digital collection to complement the artwork. Other ideas involve using the artwork as backdrops for school or theater performances.

Elizabeth Billings, one of three artist, puts up a piece called "From the River, To the River," on the side of a building on Depot Street on
Elizabeth Billings, one of three artist, puts up a piece called "From the River, To the River," on the side of a building on Depot Street on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. (Kristopher Radder Reformer Staff)

"We can aggregate those photos," said Lovett. "We hope it will take on a life of its own."

At the Transportation Center is the other aspect of the project. A video, which can only be seen during nighttime hours, is projected there. Three portrait sessions were held earlier in the year. Over 300 people are featured in the photographs.

"One woman stood on her hands. Someone had a bicycle, a banjo, a soup ladle," Lovett said. "There's all this personality from our town."

Panels with poems also were added to the facility's walls.

The project is to remain up for a year. But the artists hope the installations will inspire people to make more of such spaces in the future.

"I feel like the fluidity of the river has been on our backs the whole time, not just with how we've gotten along and how we've worked together but how the project has built on itself. Hopefully, the fluidity of the river and the project will continue out now and enliven the space more," Wasserman said. "We're going to have a water symposium at some point in the next year and we hope to engage topics that have to do with the river."

She noted the "depth of generosity" of the town and members of the community. All three artists thanked the volunteers who helped along the way.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.