If you didn’t make it to Burlington’s Bite Me Organic Pizza during the South End Art Hop last month, you can still catch the South End Artists Collective’s tile project, “Look Up.” The installation of 80 unique ceiling tiles will remain at the pizzeria indefinitely.
“Look Up” began several months ago when Jill Badolato, a South End resident, photographer and director of corporate social responsibility at Dealer.com, noticed that someone had drawn on one of the yellow ceiling tiles at Bite Me. Badolato, who grew up in San Francisco where murals are ubiquitous, had a vision: a community art project of painted, drawn-on and otherwise adorned ceiling tiles. She asked the folks at Bite Me if she could take home a tile to work on, and they said yes.
“I brought it home and worked on it for about a month, and it was the most fun I’ve had on anything in a long time,” says Badolato. Then she started chatting about the project with her neighbors. What if they could turn all 80 ceiling tiles into works of art?
Thus the South End Artists Collective was born, and the project took off — with the help of a Facebook page, which now has more than 1100 likes. Badolato says “Look Up” “had its own momentum.” But it helped that she spent three or four nights a week at Bite Me, handing people tiles to take home and installing finished ones.
There were no guidelines, and the pieces certainly didn’t have to be about pizza. “I didn’t want it to just be about Bite Me; I wanted it to be about the collective energy of the South End,” Badolato says. “I gave people a tile; I hoped they brought it back. They all came back, with gusto and with pride.”
Each of the 80 tiles tells a story from the neighborhood. “Jack the Famous Artist” is by 6-year-old Jack Welsh, who made a collage incorporating printed images from artwork by his dad — Burlington painter Mikey Welsh, who died unexpectedly last year.
Another neighbor, Kate Vetter, worked on two tiles with her art students at Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Center. One features a stylized heart and clumps of colorful feathers; the other, a one-eyed cat wearing a top hat. Inspired by the inclusion of these kids’ work, the staff of Bite Me is planning to devote one interior wall to more Woodside artwork.
When it went up in the summer, the Winrock family’s tile included a three-dimensional robot sculpture, but now it’s a little worse for wear — some of the robot’s dangling appendages have fallen off. “One of only two casualties so far,” notes Bite Me’s Jake O’Brien, one of the project’s curators. The other damaged tile was singed after being placed a little too close to the smoldering pizza oven.
Avery McIntosh’s tile features former child stars Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen in their straight-to-DVD-movie heyday, their big eyes mad with pizza lust, beside the words “Gimme Pizza.” Photographer Rick Levinson’s tile offers a stunning photograph of a tall tree against a bright blue sky.
Right above the counter, Hanna Howard’s “Embrace Changes” tile is a beautiful and haunting composition of painted birds, plus a three-dimensional bird made entirely from organic materials: animal jaw bones, shells, a squirrel tail, a bird’s nest, lichen, redwood bark and coffee.
And then there’s Megan Stearns’ “Paul,” hanging above the Bite Me entrance, a re-creation of the iconic photo of the shirtless movie star in Cool Hand Luke. “The ceiling would just not have been complete without a portrait of Paul Newman on there,” quips O’Brien.
What’s next for the South End Artists Collective? Badolato says she needs to catch her breath after this four-month undertaking, but she and her neighbors are brainstorming the next community art project. Their latest idea for a yet-to-be-determined South End location? A “Look Down” floor.
“Look Up” by the South End Artists Collective, at Bite Me Organic Pizza in Burlington. Info, facebook.com/SouthEndArtistCollective.