Brattleboro highway art project team to meet

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BRATTLEBORO — A new working group or team is tasked with fine-tuning ideas around an art installation that could go up along Interstate 91.

"It's a fun project and I think it's already getting the effect we want, which is to get the town to think about art and the way we want to portray ourselves to the 6 million vehicles or whatever that travel through every year," said Tad Montgomery. "That's already happening, which is fantastic."

He received the Select Board's blessing to explore the idea in July. Board members had questions on the project's feasibility.

A meeting with Windham Regional Commission senior Matt Mann went well, according to Montgomery. Mann specializes in transportation issues.

"We had a very good conversation with him," said Montgomery. "The big thing that we discussed was this right of way."

The right of way begins at the middle of the median between the two lanes on I-91 and goes 150 feet in either direction. Obtaining approval to install anything in this area can be "extremely problematic," said Montgomery.

The good news is that his group is thinking of places that fall outside that zone.

"Maybe eventually we'll try to get approval, after we have a track record and a history and people like it," he said.

But for now, he said, the group is going after the "lower hanging fruit" and will talk to landowners with property beyond the right of way.

Besides sites, the group will be looking at what constraints surround the project and what kinds of criteria to develop for potential art installations. Items for criteria floated around so far involve budgeting, a decommissioning or take-down plan, dealing with damage or vandalism, and owner permission.

A meeting at 5 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 15, at the Brattleboro Food Co-op cafe will be followed by one with the Town Arts Committee on Tuesday, Aug. 16, at 4 p.m.

The Select Board voted in favor of a motion "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."

"I don't know if it will end up being a (Town Arts) subcommittee. If it does then it has to meet all requirements of the Open Meeting Law. Those can be a bit onerous and it will require a lot more time in terms of posting minutes and agendas, quorums, who can be on the committee, who oversees. And so since the Select Board didn't give the full endorsement we asked for, we're going to plug away as our own working group," said Montgomery, who had hoped the board would put out a call to create a separate committee. "Either way, it can move forward."

Montgomery and Mann were joined by Town Arts Committee Chairman Adam Salviani and committee member Doug Cox for a meeting that lasted about an hour and 15 minutes. And another meeting, which has not yet been scheduled, will focus on the state law banning billboards — the major issue that worried Montgomery when he first started presenting his proposal to the committee two years ago.

Cox, Montgomery and Salviani are the core members of the working group for now.

"We're definitely looking for people who are interested and excited. We really want to bring in others to give fresh perspective," said Montgomery. "Maybe people with expertise in fundraising or social media or developing big art projects."

He said he expects a regular meeting schedule will be set up with sub-working groups, but much will depend on the amount of energy and momentum.

Mann suggested the group keep certain agencies informed, Montgomery said, meaning the town's Planning Commission, the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the WRC. Safety and the state's Act 250 permitting requirements were other things the group will need to keep in mind.

Montgomery said he has started talking with landowners but would rather not say who they are yet. He anticipates a meeting with the WRC's transportation committee will be held in the fall.

Salviani is optimistic about the project.

"It's amazing the level of public and private support that we've been receiving for it. It's incredibly encouraging for the future of the project," he said. "I'm very confident that this will happen. It might take awhile and it's going to be a big community effort. But it's going to be a landmark event and process for the arts here in Brattleboro."

An art installation would be the way a lot of people experience Brattleboro, said Salviani, hoping that the project could put out a good impression of the town to people who might otherwise not notice it.

One of Montgomery's friends does not think so highly of the project.

"He said, 'You know, Tad, I really love Vermont's fields and forests and hills and views. And I'm not sure what I think about putting things up that will detract from the views we have on our highways now.' He wasn't angry or upset. He just wanted to share his opinion," Montgomery said. "What I took from that is when we do start asking residents of Brattleboro to vote on a favorite project, we should have an option that says 'none of the above' so people like him can have their voices heard. And if that's the preponderance of opinion, then we should respect that."

Call Chris Mays at 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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