Those driving down Main Street in Bethel may have noticed that there is a new “school” in town.
Over the summer, a busy group of local folks and a Vermont artist have worked to bring some life to the structure locally known as The Wall. Two brookies and two rainbow trout appeared in late August, swimming north at the junction of Route 107 and Route 12. While it may seem unexpected, the process and planning for the new mural started last fall, and has involved public input, many volunteer hours, and a substantial grant from the Vermont Arts Council.
Beginning in the late fall of 2016, the Bethel Revitalization Initiative (BRI) began the process of applying for an Animating Infrastructure grant through the Vermont Arts Council, to support three works of public art to enliven downtown Bethel. The project emerged from last year’s Better Block project, after community input demonstrated great interest in more permanent downtown beautification and public art projects.
The application became the focus of a small subcommittee, and through the winter, the group accumulated many hours of volunteer time to complete the 30-page document. By May of 2017, the BRI had been awarded the $15,000 grant and they were busy making plans for three components, including the fish mural.
What was new for Lacy was the medium used to complete the project. The other murals on the tour (visit marylacyart.com for more details), were painted directly onto the structures’ surfaces. Because of the age and composition of Bethel’s wall, painting directly onto the surface was not possible. While the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which is responsible for the maintenance of the wall, has stated that it is structurally sound, the amount of moisture seeping through would very quickly cause damage to the mural. This is also the reason that background paint was not used as a part of the project on the wall.
For this project, Lacy proposed painting the mural onto plywood and mounting it mosaic fashion, using anchors and 2x4s. Another advantage of this method is that when the wall rises to the top of the VTrans fix-it list, the mural can be taken down and replaced onto the new structure [or another location].
This medium also allowed extensive community involvement. The students in the One Planet summer program at Bethel Elementary School spent two mornings painting the individual plywood pieces, essentially weatherproofing them. Then the BRI sponsored a community painting party at the Bethel Common. Local families spent an afternoon adding color to the mosaic pieces. All told, there were about 70 mosaic pieces and over two hundred separate, hand-mixed colors.
One of the requirements of the Animating Infrastructure grant is to track the number of volunteer hours invested in the project. While the total number of hours has yet to be tabulated, the current tally, including the contributions of students, community families, and committee participants, is over 1,000 hours.
There are two more projects yet to come that are included in the AI grant and will evolve over the next eight months. Local artists Teal Sallen and Lindley Brainard will also bring their talents to the public spaces in Bethel. With public input, Sallen, who is an illustrator, has been designing Bethel-themed banners to hang from the light poles downtown that will celebrate themes and town icons chosen by the community.
Brainard, a woodworker and artisan, is designing and building benches that will be placed in public spaces downtown. The benches will be crafted from fallen locust trees from the town forest. The locust wood is extremely durable and rot resistant, and the benches will be designed to link together in groups when in use and come apart for easy winter storage.
All three projects include elements that celebrate and call attention to the White River, which community members identified as one of Bethel’s greatest assets.
The Bethel Revitalization Initiative, in partnership with AARP, Team Better Block, and most recently Bethel’s Energy Committee, continues to explore the creation of a more pedestrian- and bike-friendly downtown, including exploring ways of slowing down traffic with temporary “bump outs” near an already established downtown crosswalk. To volunteer your time or other support to the mission of the BRI, visit bethelrevitalizationinitiative.org.