Highway art installation proposed in Brattleboro

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BRATTLEBORO &— Tad Montgomery is not pretending to have all the answers when it comes to his proposal for an art installation on Interstate 91.

"It could open a can of worms," he said, mentioning a Vermont law prohibiting billboards. "So you need to be very careful with the project and how you move forward."

Last Tuesday, Montgomery asked the Town Arts Committee to bring the project to the Select Board. But the committee wanted to refine the proposal a bit before doing so.

Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, cautioned Montgomery on the billboard issue. The ban has been in effect since 1968.

"I sort of rocked back on my heels and said, 'I don't want to be the one who opens the can of worms that brings down the billboard law.' I would be mortified by that," said Montgomery. "I've been sitting in cognitive dissonance ever since."

Town Arts Committee Chairman Adam Salviani told the Reformer he was in "total support" of the project and was looking forward to working with Montgomery to bring it to the Select Board for approval.

About 8.4 million vehicles drive through Brattleboro via I-91 each year, according to the proposal. One or more art installations within sight of the highway would give travelers "a unique sense of our town and region," the document stated. Potential sites include the lawn below the Austine School, the circle at Exit 3, the berm and fence at the Winstanley solar array, and the sides of houses, buildings and garages facing I-91. And themes, such as environment, technology, agriculture, diversity and progressive Yankee ideals, could be communicated.

"The concept is to engage the entire town in envisioning and submitting design ideas, choosing the projects to develop, fundraising and maintaining the art," the proposal said. "We envision a process in which the community actively engages in the process of expressing our place to travelers."

If the committee and Select Board get on board with the project, a sub-committee could be formed to vet submissions. Guidelines would assist in the process. Crowdfunding campaigns through Kickstarter.com could determine which projects have the most support and funding. But the Select Board would have final say over the installations, Montgomery said.

A book of submissions could be kept. Even if a project never became an installation, it would be documented.

"If what gets installed is the result of a well though-out process that involves every resident of Brattleboro that wants to be involved in the selection of what gets installed and the funding of it then I don't see any corporation saying, 'I now have the right to put up a billboard or some commercial art,'" Montgomery said.

The project may need permission from the Legislature in addition to the Select Board. A mural on a barn near Exit 6 saying "Welcome to Bellows Falls" received approval this way.

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


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