Brattleboro highway art project finds support


BRATTLEBORO >> An art installation on Interstate 91 is one step closer to being a possibility.

"To approve the Town Arts Committee's continued work to assess the feasibility of and develop a process for moving forward with a town highway art project," the Select Board's unanimously approved motion stated.

Committee Chairman Adam Salviani and Tad Montgomery approached the board on Tuesday. Salviani said he saw the project as a way to potentially turn passersby into visitors or patrons of businesses in town.

The idea, compared to an art installation depicting whale tails in Burlington, is to welcome people to Vermont.

"We intend for it to be locally based in every way possible," said Salviani, describing how the process could include volunteers who assess projects, assist with the installation and takedown, and organize fundraising.

He was clear that the board was not being asked for money, saying the installation would have no impact on the town's budget.

A proposal for putting art up somewhere along the highway in Brattleboro was first mentioned about a year ago.

"It came to me in a fit of delirium," Montgomery told the board. "I woke up in the middle of the night with this idea of, 'Why not put art on I-91?'"

After getting "very enthusiastic responses" from the Town Arts Committee, he said he then went to Rep. Mollie Burke. She serves on the House Committee on Transportation and she's an artist.

The possibility of corporate entities challenging the state law banning billboards worried Montgomery more than anything else.

"I don't want to be the one to bring down the billboard law in Vermont," he said. "I'd probably be tarred and feathered first."

That concern prompted him to start developing a process which a company could not copy. He also spoke with Vermont Agency of Transportation officials. They preferred working through regional planning commissions.

Talks with the Windham Regional Commission a year ago came to a stop. Montgomery said he wanted the Select Board's endorsement "as the first major step in making it happen" then he would resume discussions. Sign-offs from the state and landowners would come next.

"I like the idea a lot. I'm just trying to figure out the order of things because you don't want to go looking for art designs if the state says no," said Kate O'Connor, Select Board vice chairwoman. "I do think personally I would like to know what the AOT says. Because it could stop right there."

"I think our plan is to get all our bases covered before those submissions start coming in," said Salviani.

"I think that I certainly wouldn't have a problem supporting it rather than waiting for everybody," said board member Dick Degray. "Because everybody's going to say, 'What did the Select Board do?'"

Board Chairman David Gartenstein called the proposal "a very interesting idea" with "a very broad concept."

"It's not clear to me specifically what we're talking about," he said. "Because I didn't really see it in the proposals here."

His questions had to do with whether the project would be sited on public or private land, whether it was a permanent or temporary installation, who would maintain it and how exactly funds would be raised.

"It looks to me like you've set out a process for trying to figure out how that should be," said Gartenstein. "For me, it's a little bit too unspecific for me to say more than I endorse the idea to determine what it will be moving forward."

Board member David Schoales said he was happy to support "a series of steps to see what was possible."

"Conceptually, I love the idea because I love the whale tails. It's so unique. Years ago I thought, 'Wow. Wouldn't it be neat to have something as the gateway to Vermont down here? You working out the details is going to follow its own progress. It may get nipped in the bud," board member John Allen said. "But on the surface, I just think it's a great idea."

Montgomery's proposal gives the Select Board "veto power" over what projects get approved. Some people pushed against that part, he said.

"I don't want a Boaty McBoatface representing Brattleboro on the highway," he added, referring to a contest in Great Britain where people were asked to name "a billion dollar research vessel" and that's the name they came up with but ultimately it was not approved by officials.

Montgomery had been hoping the board would put out a call to create a committee. But he was told the Arts Committee could create a subcommittee after getting approval from the state.

"You don't need a committee to talk to Matt Mann," O'Connor said of the WRC official who specializes in transportation issues, adding that "it's going to take awhile" going back and forth with the AOT.

Contact Chris Mays at or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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